February 26, 2014

How Far is too Far in Living for Jesus?

What do we do with the words of the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 10:39?

“Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

The context is sending out the 12 to proclaim the ‘kingdom of heaven’ (10:7). They were sent out as‘sheep amongst wolves’ (10:16) but were encouraged to stay firm in Jesus and to‘take up the cross’(10:38). It seems that it is supposed to be a costly thing to follow Jesus. That is the way he meant it to be. Nowhere is the ‘sheep amongst wolves’ analogy truer than it is on a housing scheme. New Christians will be targeted from the off, even by those who profess to be ‘happy for them’ in their new-found faith. Conversion will be tolerated but only if it makes little real difference to the life and behaviour of the believer. Any kind of moral stand here will be counter cultural by definition and will upset those who know their behaviour is wrong (though they would never publicly admit it) and don’t want to face the personal challenge that a life transformed by Christ brings.

Of course, that is true for all believers, whatever context they serve in, who take a stand for Jesus in our increasingly hostile and secular state. But, working in council estates/housing schemes often comes with a high personal and spiritual cost. The question is:

Are we truly prepared to pay it? Will we take up our cross and follow Jesus into these desperately needy areas?

I think that in losing our lives by entering housing schemes we will, in fact, truly begin to find them. How so? Well, I think we need a little tweak in our mindset when it comes to this issue. We often think of moving onto schemes as all about ‘losing’, when actually it is all about winning. We think of it as a ‘sacrifice’ when actually it can be a great‘blessing’. It can spiritually reinvigorate us. More than that, it can sharpen our spiritual instincts and drive us back to the Lord Jesus, in complete reliance on his Holy Spirit to strengthen us for the task. There’s nothing like a real challenge to drive us to our knees. The ‘upside down and inside out’nature of kingdom living means that when we lose, we win. When we die, we live. When we are low, he lifts us high. When facing defeat, he brings the victory. Jesus encouraged the 12 ‘not to worry’ in the face of opposition for the ‘Spirit of the Father’ would speak through them (10:19–20). The point being that even though there is great sacrifice in following Jesus, there is also great reward and an even greater helper.

Now, there continues to be a lot of chatter about ‘missional living’ in many evangelical communities today. Good. I am all for it. I think that the current economic climate in the UK has given us the single biggest opportunity for a generation to make real inroads into our inner-city housing schemes through this kind of approach to evangelism and mission. Today, more than ever, we have a chance to show the world what true, Christian ‘missional living’ looks like. We have the chance to serve our communities in a variety of ways. We can serve them in local voluntary organisations. We can serve them in our local schools (although that door is closing on us now). We have a chance to take Jesus out into the market place instead of hiding the gospel behind the safety of our buildings. Missional living has brought to light the weaknesses of the ‘attractional model’ approach to evangelism that has dominated the evangelical landscape in recent history. Every time a local service shuts in Niddrie, we are thinking of a way the church can step into the breach.

However, my one concern with all of this ‘missional’ talk is simply that it remains just that. Talk. We need to be careful that all this debate in Christian land is actually going somewhere. I still think that far too many believers are stuck debating the meaning of ‘shalom’ and ‘the role of the church’and reading endless talking head blogs. It’s one thing to meet up with Tarquin and Felicity to discuss Steve Timmis’s latest book offering over wine and a few nibbles in our ‘life/small/house/organic/cell/whatever groups’ and quite another to get on with actually doing it. Book upon book is being written about the poor and the oppressed. The issue swings back and forth online.

We get it. God has a heart for the poor. Anybody with a Bible, the Holy Spirit, and half a brain cell can see it. So, let’s just crack on and do something about it! What we need now is less discussion and more people prepared to take Matthew 10:39 seriously. We need more people to come and lose their lives for Jesus in the housing schemes of our nation. Don’t just read about it and nod sagely. Come and get involved. Come and plant churches in our schemes. Come and spend your life. Lay it down.

Now, to my mind, ‘missional living’ is not just about moving into housing schemes. It’s not just helping somebody find a homeless shelter or a drug rehab. It’s about getting personally involved in messy relationships. It’s about helping with childcare issues. It’s about jumping into people’s often chaotic lives. Missional living must be costly, surely? Also, forget all this rubbish that only people with the ‘same testimony’ can really help people in poor areas. People who really care can help people. People willing to give it all for Jesus are the ones who make the greatest difference. Can I let you into a little secret? I learned it a long time ago.

Genuine, radical, gospel living always leads to gospel opportunities. Then, when the gospel of Christ is clearly proclaimed, the Holy Spirit will lead people to salvation.

Not very sophisticated, I know. But, the truth nonetheless. In the theological pendulum of life, the faith has been reduced to knowing stuff on one side of the spectrum so that many people don’t know how to live. They love the attractional approach to evangelism and mission. They are desperate to hang onto it. It is low personal cost for many of them. Invite a guest speaker or put on an event and send out the invites. Sit back and let somebody else do the work. Hand people on to the ‘professionals’. Let them sort them out. I sometimes privately wonder whether our ‘team’ approach to ministry actually harms the church because I find that less people volunteer to serve because they just assume that the team members will do it. A discussion for another day!

On the other end of the scale we have people running around doing loads of stuff but who don’t know what to say. They are good at hanging out with people and getting into their lives. Very often, though, the advice they give can be dangerous and ill informed. They live gospel shaped lives but they are not very ‘gospel literate’. They can be afraid to tell people the whole truth about their spiritual condition before a Holy God. They will fight to the death for people and their rights but they suddenly get very twitchy when it comes to sharing gospel truths. That’s why it is so easy for these kinds of people to slip into a form of liberalism. They begin to emphasise the love of God at the expense of his wrath. They begin to separate out these two conjoined parts of his character.

We need to find a balance of understanding the gospel of Jesus, taking it to heart, really living like we mean it and proclaiming it without embarrassment.

There’s a song we sing here in the UK called: Jesus Christ, I think about your Sacrifice. Here is the chorus:

And once again I look upon the cross where you died.
I´m humbled by your mercy and I’m broken inside.
Once again I thank you, once again I pour out my life.

Really? Is that true? However far we should go in living for Jesus, I bet that many of us could push it further. As the Lord said to his disciples in Matthew 10:28: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

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