Now I’m going to get very personal. Not because I’m eager to talk about myself. On the contrary, what I’m going to say is uncomfortable, and it would be far easier to keep quiet. But I will go ahead and tell this story, because it may be helpful for some of you to hear it. (By revealing these things, I am making myself vulnerable. There is plenty of ammunition here for anyone who wants to gossip about my family. Honestly, when I hear some of the rumors that have been circulating about us, it is remarkable how wrong they are. Instead of listening to rumors, you can now hear it directly from me.)
Supporting people with exceptional needs has been a tremendous blessing to me, because they are teaching me invaluable lessons about life. Because of them, I feel my life as a Christian is becoming more balanced. Before encountering these people, my relationships were limited and not quite healthy. When I interacted only with university students, I developed a kind of elitism that is uncharacteristic of Jesus Christ. Jesus reached out to people of all kinds. Even though he raised disciples, he did not limit the scope of his social interaction only to those we might consider to be good discipleship material. Jesus also mingled with the less fortunate and disadvantaged and regarded them as having immense value.
For a long time, I mistakenly assumed that a spiritually mature person is one who directed by faith rather than emotion, one who consistently denies or ignores his own feelings to do what God wants rather than what he wants. I have even supposed that this is an accurate description of Jesus Christ. After all, didn’t he pray at Gethsemane, “Not my will, but yours be done”?
Certainly Jesus did not enjoy facing the physical pain of crucifixion, nor the emotional and spiritual agony of bearing our sins and being cut off from the love of his Father. But the overall picture of Jesus found in the New Testament, and our understanding of the Godhead in the doctrine of the Trinity, is that Jesus and his Father are distinct persons united in a perfect love. The obedience of Jesus to his Father was never forced, but flowed from his perfect affinity for the Father carried in his heart, soul, mind and body. When Jesus served his Father, he was doing what he truly wanted. When Jesus served other people, he was doing what he truly wanted. And when Jesus was deeply conflicted, as human beings often are, he did not hide his feelings by putting on a stoic face; he exposed his anguish to those around him in a very transparent way.
Over the summer, we have been studying Acts at Lincoln Park UBF. To support his upcoming messages, Pastor Mark asked me to make a slide show presentation on the Diaspora Jews and their significance in the Book of Acts. Especially in relation to the theme of God spreading the gospel outside of Jewish territory “to the ends of the earth.” At first I resisted, but then submitted. I’m glad I did. I was so inspired. Especially thinking about how God strategically used this unique group of people, and in comparison, how God is now strategically using missionary children in UBF.
Who were the Diaspora Jews? Diaspora is “to migrate or scatter.” These Jews were exiled and forced to live outside of Israel. The Diaspora occurred in 722 BC, when the Assyrians conquered Northern Israel, and in 588 BC when the Babylonians conquered Judah. They were also called Hellenistic Jews, because they lived in Greek speaking territories. Living outside of Israel, they eventually lost the Hebrew language, and by the 1st century mainly spoke Greek. The Hebrew speaking Jews despised the Diaspora Jews, because they didn’t speak or write in Hebrew, “God’s language.” Indeed, they became culturally and religiously marginalized.
For as long as I can remember, I had assumed that the “normal” Christian life follows a pattern. The journey begins when you put your faith in Jesus Christ and entrust your life to God. Soon afterward, you enter a phase of discipleship where you study the Bible and learn essential Christian doctrines and practices. Then you enter a life of servantship, putting your gifts and talents to use in the service of the church. This servant phase – learning to deny yourself, to take up your cross of mission and follow Jesus daily – is the purpose of discipleship and the highest form of spiritual development.
Or is it? My own personal experience contradicts this pattern. After many years of living in that servant phase, I stopped growing and began to regress. Serving ceased to be a joy and became a burden. I had little desire to worship God and was not intrinsically interested in people. Outside the boundaries of formal ministry activity, I had almost no personal interaction with God. In my heart there was little love, only a deadness that I did not want to reveal. The answer to spiritual malaise, as far as I knew, was to repent, pray more and study the Bible more – to do exactly what I had been discipled to do, but more often and with greater intensity. That answer – which was based on the assumption that any spiritual problem that I had was purely my own fault – was unbearable. And revealing my personal weakness was not acceptable behavior for a “spiritual leader.” So I refused to be honest about what was going on inside of me. As long as I continued to do what was expected of me without making waves, everyone assumed that I was fine. No one in the church ever asked the kind of penetrating personal questions that would have revealed my true state. The only one who did so was my wife, and when she did so I became defensive and brushed her concerns aside. I assured her that I was okay. But I was not. I had hit a wall in my spiritual life, and she knew it.
In 1983, Donald Schön published The Reflective Practitioner. The book is not explicitly Christian. I am not sure whether he is a Christian, as the book gives no indication either way. Even still, the Christian community can benefit from scholarly work and research and I think we, as Christians, should leave no stones unturned as we seek to do the work of God.
This book is about practitioners – architects, engineers, psychotherapists, and others – and how they perform their work. Schön’s main assertion is about a new type of thinking, what he calls reflection-in-action. It is this type of thinking that I believe will help Bible teachers become much more effective, and reflective, in our effort to help others find Christ.
The prototype of the”Great Commission” is found in Isaiah 49:6: “…a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” After the Babylonian captivity, a question arose: “Can God change his mind?” There was a consensus among the Jewish intellectuals that since his people disobeyed, God might have changed his mind and stopped loving them. Still, in their hearts they had hope that a deliverer would come. The Jews thought Jesus was going to destroy the Roman Empire and establish a Jewish kingdom.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel.” The kingdom strikes back. The season of God has come! By choice, humans joined the enemy’s camp. At first, it seemed as though the enemy was winning. But God had a plan to take back the world from the enemy. The author of Mark’s gospel saw God’s redemptive story unfolding before his very eyes. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus destroyed the power of sin and death and restored God’s rule.
The kingdom of God is at hand. But it is not quite here yet. Until God completes this restoration of his kingdom, we have an errand to run.
How can we read the Bible through the lens of God’s mission?
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” speaks about two aspects of God’s character: love and justice. God loves to show off his love. At the same time, he is the God of justice. His rule on earth as it is in heaven was interrupted by human failure. The enemy’s deception and the fall of man were the catalysts for God’s world mission.
God’s mission is to restore his rule on earth. Very soon he will destroy Satan’s counterfeit kingdom and establish his own kingdom. Since the beginning of time, God has been moving forward with this world-mission task. We are called to to participate and accomplish God’s world mission purpose in our own generation.
At a meeting of the Evangelical Missiological Society (EMS) back in 2008, one of the presentations that made an impression on me was given by Professor James Plueddemann of the Mission and Evangelism Department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He gave a fascinating talk on the difficulties in leadership that arise when gospel workers from different nations and cultures work together on the mission field. Cultures vary in so many ways, but one of the most important dimensions to consider is individualism versus collectivism.
In a nutshell, the difference is this: Individualists believe that a group exists for the benefit of individuals, whereas collectivists believe that individuals exist for the benefit of the group.
When I was saying goodbye to my friends in Hannover, I invited them for pizza and Bible study. Surprisingly, some came. And so we had an interesting group consisting of two Hindus, one Muslim, two agnostics/atheists, one Buddhist and one Protestant. With the exception of one, they were all non-Christian by any reasonable definition.
We studied the parable of the lost sons. Hearing the doctrine of forgiveness of sins didn’t shock them at all. It made no particular impression on them. It was something they had heard before. (Perhaps it was also the result of my poor gospel presentation.) However, when I mentioned Jesus’ teaching that good works done with bad intentions are evil, they were dumbstruck. How on earth could it be possible that good deeds become evil?
I was glad to see that Jesus’ teachings can still be breathtaking even in our day.