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The Christian is expectant.  We wait for Christ our Bridegroom.

But how do we wait?  Like this?

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I recently read Sam Harris quoting this statistic: 44% of Americans believe Jesus will 'certainly' or 'probably' return in the next 50 years.  That's not 44% of American Christians.  That's 44% of Americans!

Now I think Jesus could return today.  But I also think He could be another few millennia.  I'm not sure it's fruitful to put a time frame to this.  But perhaps we know people who scour the newspapers for signs of antichrist - certain that the end is nigh.  And by nigh - they mean Tuesday week.

Just before Jesus ascended His followers wanted to get an eschatological timetable from Him:

Acts 1:6-9:  So when they had come together, they asked Him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

They wanted to know times and seasons.  Jesus says 'That's not your job!  Your job is to be witnesses to the ends of the earth."

We do not wait by worrying about when.  We wait by witnessing. 

Notice how Acts 1 continues:

10 And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven."

Even as Jesus goes - even as they're told that Jesus will return the same way! - the disciples receive a rebuke for gawping at the skies.  They've been given their marching orders. 

The posture of the church as we wait for Christ is not stationary, faces heavenwards.  It's, verse 8, moving out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth witnessing to Christ.

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We wait by witnessing.

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big-fish-eat-little-ones2 Mark 5:1-20

Jesus is stronger than the storms (Mark 4:35-41).  He is stronger than death (Mark 5:21-43).  In Mark 5:1-20 He takes on an army of demons to prove Himself stronger than the Strong Man (Mark 3:27).

Read the sermon here

Listen here

 

Sermon in brief...

The Before and After shots of this demonized man would be something to behold!

Before: living among tombs, naked, cutting himself, unable to be held by the strongest chains, screaming out night and day.

After: Seated, dressed, in his right mind.

How powerful is Jesus?

If one boxer knocks out another that shows a certain strength

But what if one boxer simply commanded his opponent and his opponent knocked himself out.  That's power.  That's what Jesus displays.

Jesus proves Himself much the bigger fish which makes Him incredibly scary

The locals want Him gone - that kind of power, that kind of liberation even is too threatening.  We are too attached to our little slaveries to naturally want Jesus' power around.

The stunning thing is - when they ask Him to leave, He goes.

Amazingly Jesus grants the requests of the unclean spirits, He grants the request of the hostile crowd, there's only one request He denies - that of the delivered man.

This man just wants to be with Jesus - isn't that a good request?  Shouldn't Jesus grant this?

Jesus says 'no'.  Why?  He sends the man back as a missionary.

He's like us - freed to witness.  We just want to be with Jesus but there's a job to be done first.

When Jesus returns to the region in Mark 7 and 8 He feeds the 4000.  You can imagine the reunion.  The man had been witnessing in the region and had perhaps brought many people to Jesus.  On that day they would feast together.  The man back in the company of his Redeemer, feasting with Christ and with those he's brought to Christ.

Same with us.  The only reason we're not with Jesus now is that we might tell others (beginning with our family) of the Lord's mercy.  But one day we'll be face to face and we'll feast.

And in the meantime know this: Jesus is more powerful that the strongest forces of destruction in your life.  You can't change yourself - you're the littlest fish.  But He is stronger.

 

[youtube=http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=JZBPD-T20t0]

A friend of mine recently posed this statement for discussion

"Five sessions of 5 pairs spending two hours door-knocking is better spent having 5 pairs having neighbours round five times in a season" Discuss.

Some responses:

  • Good thought!  See especially here where Rory Shiner discusses Gospel intentionality as a good 'third way' between cold-contact and friendship evangelism.  He (like my friend) has been very impressed by the Crowded House churches.
  • The personal investment involved in such hospitality is often far greater than the fear factor involved in door-to-door.  In this sense door-knocking, though appearing to be the more impressive, can often be more of a cop-out.
  • A deep sharing of life is surely a far superior context for sharing the faith!

But having said that

  • The context for sharing my faith is, fundamentally, not my friendships down here (though clearly that is ideal).  More fundamentally though, the context for sharing the faith is resurrection, pentecost and second coming. Christ is risen - this is my authority to speak of Christ.  The Spirit has been poured out - this is the power to do so.  He is coming - this is the urgency.  I realise my friend would not wish to disagree with this but it's still good to remember what is at root my authorisation for my speaking.
  • There are millions in this country alone who don't have Christian friends (at least Christian friends who are willing to share their faith).  Friendship evangelism will not reach them.  (Rory's proposal linked above speaks to this - gospel intentionality seeks to reach a wider network of people than those we already know).
  • If it's a question of 'effectiveness' - stranger evangelism 'works'. I will post figures from Bridge Builders when I have them confirmed.  But I know also from personal experience that people are converted through these efforts - this is precisely what we expect given the point above regarding resurrection, pentecost and second coming. 
  • Think of the beginnings of the Salvation Army or David Wilkerson (Cross and Switchblade) - there was no bridge upon which they built their ministry apart from the declaration of the word.  Now they committed themselves to those who responded and very meaningful relationships blossomed (along with ministries that often lost their confidence with the power of the word proclaimed plainly!).  But the footing on which those relationships were placed was the proclamation of the gospel to strangers.  (But again perhaps this is closer to the 'gospel intentionality' model than to 'stranger evangelism')
  • Jesus did both - He did blow into town and speak to strangers.  And He also went to dinner parties and built into very significant relationships.
  • We are to sow on all the soils (Mark 4).

In all I think I agree with the statement in terms of priorities.  I'd want to make sure that those we invite are not simply our friends (Luke 14:12-14) and that we target those who are not only beyond the walls of the church but beyond our friendship groups and comfort zones.  Door to door is never to be an end in itself but the basis on which a relationship will ensue.  It should never be "Gospel apart from relationship."  But if it were ever a choice between "Gospel => relationship" or "Relationship => Gospel" then there should certainly be no theologically decisive preference for the latter!

 Therefore I would certainly not want to abandon door-to-door but seek for all evangelism to involve relationship building. In short, let's sow on all the soils.

What say you?

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Are we in the Post-Christian age? 

Is this age characterized by total cultural memory-loss regarding our Christian heritage?  Is this the age in which people are so far back in their Christian understanding that the mission stategies of previous centuries are virtually useless? 

Are we in the Post-Modern age?

Is this age characterized by the total devaluation of truth-claims?  Is this the age of story rather than argument?  Of dialogue rather than preaching?  Is this the age in which declarative proclamation will be basically impotent? 

Are we in the Post-Ascension age?

Is this the age characterized by the Spirit's pentecostal power?  Is this the age in which every minute represents the LORD's gospel patience?  Is this the age in which the church is commissioned to make disciples of all nations, empowered by His resurrection authority and accompanied with His living presence? 

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I am tired of hearing Christians rehearse 1 and 2.  We all know about 1 and 2.  But what's fundamental here?  What age are we really in??

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In previous posts I have discussed the priesthood of all believers and how this doctrine interacts with the doctrine of the trinity.  In my last post on this I examined the connection from Trinity => church.  In this post we'll go in the other direction: church => trinity (a much more perilous route!!).  My question is:

          Can 'different giftings united in one priesthood' be thought of as an analogy for the trinity?

If it can, then it would be ok to see different Persons of the Godhead differently gifted.  This different gifting would imply no difference in divinity (just as differences in charismatic gifting implies no difference in priestliness).  Instead we could affirm the differences we see in the economy as real and not apparent and yet in no way infer any ontological subordination.

To set this up, let me quote from Athanasius' Deposition of Arius

And if the Son is the “Word” and “Wisdom” of God, how was there “a time when He was not?” It is the same as if they should say that God was once without Word and without Wisdom.

Here we have, of course, a thought-experiment.  But it is interesting to note exactly what thoughts are being had by Athanasius.  The argument is basically this: 

1. The Son is the Wisdom of the Father.

2. It is inconceivable to have the Father without wisdom.

3. The Father must have always had the Son. 

Now it doesn't take much thought to imagine the Arian come-back to this.  Surely you could just say that the Father has always had wisdom in Himself, i.e. considered apart from the Son.  This was a move which Athanasius was unwilling to make.  The logic of Athanasius' position (without which his argument fails) is that the Father must have the Son to have wisdom - He does not have it in Himself. 

All this accords with verses like 1 Cor 2:10-11, where the wisdom of God is seen as an irreducibly inter-Personal knowledge.  The Father is wise in the wisdom of the Son, known in the Spirit.  Athanasius reveals in this argument that he did not conceive of the Persons as having divine attributes (like wisdom) complete in themselves.  The attributes are not, on this conception, identical CV's repeated for each Person.  Rather, each Person shares in the common divine life because they so belong to one another and inter-penetrate one another that Each has a complete share in the giftings of the Others.  Yet those gifting (attributes) are properly unique to the Persons in their distinctive existences as Begettor, Begotten and Proceeding.  The Son is the Wisdom of the Father.  The Father is not wise in Himself but only in the Son and by the Spirit. 

As we discussed the priesthood of all believers we were led to just these kinds of conclusions.  I am priestly not by myself but only in and with you and your gifts.  And because of you and your gifts - you and they belong to me (Rom 12:5).  Is it not the same with God?  The Son so belongs to the Father that He who is Wisdom eternally makes wise the Father in the Spirit, etc, etc.

Isn't it very suggestive that 1 Corinthians 11 tells us that Father and Son are Head and Body (v3) just before we read a whole chapter on the church also being like a body??  And isn't it interesting that the following chapter (13) discusses how the many are one - love!?

Can we not say by analogy with 1 Cor 12:15: "If the Father should say 'Because I am not Wisdom, I do not belong to the Godhead,' He would not for that reason cease to be part of the Godhead... "  You see where I'm going with this.  Just as the priesthood of all believers is the corporate priestliness of differently gifted believers so the equal divinity of the Three is the corporate divinity of differently gifted Persons.  Yet these Persons so belong to each other that they are never without the gifts of the Other.

Now some think that Athanasius' famous affirmation opposes such a position:

'The Son is everything the Father is except Father...'  

But I'm saying, if Athanasius is being true to his Deposition of Arius he must mean this in terms of ontological equality.  That is the sense in which we must uphold these words.  But it's very clear, viewed from another perspective, that the Son is many things the Father is not - Begotten, Mediator, Prophet, Priest, Prince, Sent One, etc, etc.  So whatever the above affirmation means it does not mean that the Son's CV is the same as the Father's.  Instead, just as my gifts are different to yours, so the particular attributes of the Persons are different.  And just as your gifts belong to me in the unity of the church so the Person's attributes belong to one another in the unity of the Godhead.

We'll see why this is important shortly.

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When discussing the priesthood of all believers I tried to highlight the corporate nature of our priestliness.  I only find my priestliness in union with Christ and in union with others.  Both are essential.

The priesthood of all believers is not a priestliness that is the private possession of each believer.  If we argue like this then the very basis for the doctrine is undermined.  If I claim priestliness in myself then I can be priestly without you.  And if this is admitted then my different gifted-ness and the distinct exercise of my priestly gifts will easily appear as a different order of priestliness to yours.  And once we say that we're a hop, skip and a jump from a priesthood of the few.

No - the priesthood of all believers upholds that, while having different gifts to you and while exercising them in different ways, I cannot be priestly without you.  Yet with you I am both priestly and I have your gifts - for you in your giftedness belong to me, and I to you (Rom 12:5ff).

In thinking this through the connections with trinitarian theology suggest themselves pretty readily.  In John 17, Christ prays for a priestly church unity.  That is, He prays that the church be united as witness to the world. (see v18, 21, 23).  In v21 and 23, Christ makes clear the proto-type for such priestly unity: the Father-Son union.  So in thinking about Church and gifts, there seem to be some fruitful lines of enquiry into Trinity and attributes. 

In this post I'll consider things from Trinity => church.  In my next post I'll think of church =>Trinity.

As we consider things from Trinity => church. It seems like the major trinitarian heresies are easily seen in our understandings of church.

tritheism: a 'trinity' of separable Persons becomes, in church practice, separable priests - lone-ranger, hit and run  evangelists divorced from the corporate life of the church.

modalism: a one-ness in which the Persons lose their distinctiveness becomes, in church practice, a forcing of church members into the same mould.  Everyone must exercise every gift.  Training in mission = making everyone do street-evangelism.  That kind of thing.

subordinationism (Arianism): The ontological subordination of Son and Spirit becomes, in church practice, the suborination of the non-full-time Christian workers.  It's the old two-tier way of life first espoused by Eusebius but replicated today.  The 'perfect' are the priests (nowadays the 'full-time Christian workers'), the 'permitted' are the regular folk (nowadays those whose tithes support the 'full-time Christian workers'). 

The antidote must be to go back to the trinity and understand again how the many are one.  Not competitively, not identically, not merely apparently.  Rather the one-ness (of God and of church) is a unity of distinct Persons whose belongingness to one another makes them who they are.  

I am - in all my differentness to you, in all my distinct gifting and role - one with you in the mission that constitutes both me and the church.  Without you I have no mission, in fact I have no ecclesial being - that is, I am not a Christian.  I have my life and being and we have our mission to the world only because we belong together at the very deepest level.

20 "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  (John 17:20-23)

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Rest of series:

Part two

Part three - Let Jesus be Jesus

Our church is in a sermon series encouraging us to put mission at the heart of all we do and say.  It's got me thinking about one of my favourite verses: "I believed therefore I have spoken." (2 Cor 4:13)  I've been trying to think, what do I need to believe in order to be the evangelist God calls me to be?  Here are 21 thoughts:

  1. God is mission.  He is Sender, Sent and Proceeding.  His being is irreducibly bound up in sending - in mission.  He is the out-ward focussed God, the spreading God.  He is a fountain of sending love.
  2. Participation in the life of this God means, inescapably, participating in the glorifying/magnifying/proclaiming of the Persons ("Behold My Servant..." Is 42:1ff).  Life in God means life in mission.
  3. The Father is over all our missionary efforts.  He is the real One who summons the world to faith in Christ and who orders all things that they might be brought under His feet (Eph 1:10).  Therefore He is not limited by my limitations and can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. (Eph 3:20).
  4. The Son is the centre of all our missionary efforts (Rom 1:3-4).  He is the One proclaimed - the substance of all our proclamation.  Good thing too because He is unbelievably attractive.  Speak of Him and you cannot go wrong.
  5. The Spirit is the power of all our missionary efforts.  You are ‘clothed with power' as you go in mission (Luke 24:49).  The One whose very nature is to make known the Son is with you in divine power and presence. 
  6. Hell is real and the certain destination of all those apart from Christ.  (Acts 4:12; 2 Thes 1:8-10)
  7. The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom 1:16).  I am unleashing divine potency as I testify to Christ.
  8. The love of Christ compels us (2 Cor 5:14).  This is not a case of God saying, "I've been good to you in X, why don't you be good to me in Y."   It's a case of "I have swept you up in my mission to the world.  Now carry on!"
  9. I am salt and light (Matt 5:13-16). I am a witness (Acts 1:8). Whether I act on this or not, I don't have to become an evangelist.  God has made me what I need to be.
  10. My flesh is the real enemy to evangelism not lack of evangelistic techniques!  My flesh curves me in on myself when mission is to extend myself into the lives of others.  The arguments against me evangelizing always revolve around my present comfort, introspection and the status quo.  My desire for vain glory, approval and ease stops me gospelling.  My fight against the flesh is one fought on the front lines of the mission field.
  11. My authority to speak of Christ is not about me 'earning the right' but the authority is Christ's resurrection from the dead. (Matt 28:18-20)  That is the Ultimate Disruption that authorizes all other disruptions of the status quo that aim at making disciples of Christ. 
  12. Giving myself away is the happy life - the way of Christ, the way of blessing.  (Mark 8:35)
  13. Disgrace for the sake of the Name is glorious (Acts 5:41).  There is nothing like evangelism for experiencing standing with Jesus as one chosen out of the world (John 15:18-21). 
  14. Nothing is neutral (Matt 12:30).  My friends, family, colleagues and the public space is not neutral but conveys spiritual values all the time.  I never 'inject' God-talk into the world.  All talk is god-talk, that is - talk about ultimate spiritual values.  I never need to be ashamed that I'm the one forcing spiritual views on another.  Such proselytising is a necessary part of all conversation.  I may as well bring true God-talk to bear.
  15. The Gospel is about everything!  Fundamentally I don't have to turn the conversation to spiritual things.  It's already spiritual and it's already addressed by the Father in the Son and by the Spirit.  (I just have to figure out how! - but that will come in time.)
  16. The community is chosen, dearly loved and special in its world-focussed outward-looking-ness (1 Pet 2:9).  I have a whole body - the body of Christ - behind me.  In fact no, let me re-phrase.  The body of Christ surrounds me as an intrinsically evangelistic organism.  The burden is never simply on my shoulders.
  17. The community in its unity is hugely important  (John 13:34-35; John 17:20-26).  Before I've loved the unbeliever, my love of the believer (if done in view of the world) has already witnessed powerfully to Christ.
  18. The community in its diversity is hugely important (Eph 4:10-12).  I have been uniquely gifted in the evangelistic task and I am surrounded by others (who I need) who are likewise uniquely gifted.
  19. I don't have to be holy first then a missionary.  I strive for holiness in mission.  (More on this in other posts).  It is the outward-looking holding-up-of-Christ that is the umbrella activity of the Christian under which my holiness is worked out.  So don't wait to evangelise while you sort out your personal walk.  Use mission to conquer those besetting sins and habits (they won't be properly conquered any other way!).
  20. I don't have to be complete in knowledge first and then a missionary.  John 9: "I was blind but now I see."
  21. There is reward for the evangelist!  (Dan 12:3; Luke 16:9; 1 Thes 2:19)

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I'm sure others can add more.  What is it that we need to trust that will motivate our evangelism?

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"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)

"May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:23)

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matt 5:14-16)

The congregational life of the church has breath-taking potential.  We are on show to the world - even beyond this world! (Eph 3:10).  Jesus wants the world to look on and to say "The love these people display reminds me of Christ.  This love is out of this world. Now I believe that Christ came from the Father.  Praise be to God!"

If we took this seriously we would see that there is not 'fellowship' on the one hand and 'mission' on the other.  But in the plan and purpose of Jesus our fellowship is missional.  Our life together is to the end that we witness to the world.  We are a missionary body - a kingdom of priests. (Ex 19:6; 1 Pet 2:9; Rev 5:10).  The community of the church is not a community for its own sake but for the sake of the world.  This outward focus is constitutive of our life together.  Thus we are neither a 'holy huddle' nor a loose association of evangelists. 

These are the two errors we could fall into.  On the 'holy huddle' side we may invest in community life for its own sake.  And yet Jesus expects that the world will be able to see our united love.  On the other side we may neglect our brothers and sisters for the sake of mission.  Yet this is impossible if we've understood Jesus' commands above.   Loving the 'brotherhood' is missional.  Thus when Paul says to do good "especially to those who belong to the household of faith" (Gal 6:10) it is not simply an inwardly-looking nepotism.  The love of the Christian family is the shop-window of the gospel and has unparalleled magnetic potential!

The question in practice is how do we make this gospel fellowship visible to the outside world?  I have three suggestions, I'd love to hear any that you have.

  1. Churches should keep 'church' commitments to a minimum so that Christians can actually engage in the world around us.
  2. Home groups should be places where non-Christian friends can come along and see fellowship (over meals preferably)
  3. Church members should be encouraged to collaborate in efforts to 'infiltrate' clubs, sports teams, bars etc.  This way Christians can 'love one another' before the watching world rather than having guerilla soldiers go on individual 'raids.'

Any other thoughts on the practicalities of this?

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For a sermon I just preached on John 13 which prompted these thoughts go here.

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