I often fall into frustration about what I consider to be apathy in the large Evangelical church regarding the conversion of personal, “eternal life-qualifying faith” into actions befitting of the Kingdom of God in the here & now. Actually, it’s a pretty glaring omission when you think about it. The American Evangelical church focuses on numbers primarily, to the detriment of discipleship and Christian maturity. I can sit back high & mighty about this like I am oft to do, but it’s my problem too. We’ve been brought to faith–many of us–through manipulation. Sorry, I hate admitting that as well, but I think it’s true.
Now, for lots of us, it “worked” because we are still out there fighting the good fight to try and understand the Lord of the World and to try to follow him.
Jesus did say, “As the Father sent me, so I send you…”. To me this is a pretty clear way to say that following the King likely means loss of life. Perhaps not in the way Jesus lost His, but at minimum, it’s a redefining agenda. This comes across in Josephus where he talks of repentance in terms of abandoning one’s own agenda in order to trust another’s. This is at least what we are to do when we “accept” Christ.
But for the most part, I see a church at large which is content to put on a service each week of impressive stature to a largely anonymous and disconnected crowd without providing an outlet so that we might actually go as Jesus sent us into the World to bring about Kingdom-signaling change.
And I think it’s the Gospel we’ve gotten wrong where these symptoms are the case. The Gospel of God is the good news of Jesus’ Lordship based on His death and resurrection as the true Messiah of Israel. He was vindicated in his resurrection as an advanced sign post that new creation was underway. And because of his sacrificial death & resurrection, God dealt with the sins of the world. He calls us to be bearers of the promises given to the Patriarchs. God sent Jesus so that this project might get back on track and so that it might do so through dying and resurrection people such as any who would believe. But it’s not a story about getting saved from hell as much as it is a story about following Jesus’ sacrificial example so that strangely we might be catalysts for disciple-making. If we follow Jesus in a way that honors him, there’s so little else that even needs to be said because people value actions.
So the Gospel not only saves us but it commissions us to be bearers of the promises. That God chose Abraham for a purpose, that through him and his line would come the rescue of the world creating a family of all nations and peoples.
I recently lost a friend and colleague to sudden unexpected death. David was as good of a friend from work as I had. He was dynamic. His outlook was positive but always appreciative of sarcasm and irony. He loved the Lord. It didn’t take me long to learn this. He found out that I was a deacon at a large church here in Louisville, and he had a lot of fun with that fact. The stereotypes of my church are endless, and David’s “progressive” Christianity enjoyed many of them. We had a blast. And David taught me much. He did so by his actions more than his words. I mean, yes, there were several occasions where he and I talked theology and generally agreed about most of the stuff we discussed, but what really stood out to me and to so many others was David’s habits. He was always cleaning and straightening common areas in the office. He didn’t have to do this as more times than not, the messes he was cleaning up didn’t originate with him. But it was like clockwork. He would wipe up the bathroom counter, he’d make sure there were enough towels, and people noticed because when he died, people over and over again shared this about him.
David taught Sunday school at a mainline church in the Highlands, he was said to have been an immense encouragement to the pastor and staff at the church for many years, and his sons spoke of how David would sit every Sunday in the balcony and just bawl during the singing of his favorite hymns. He volunteered his time with Special Olympics and always rounded up a team from our office to make the icy plunge in the Ohio River as a Testament the “our Heavenly Father values these kids.”
I could go on, but my point in the elongated introduction to some brief memories about David’s life is to say that David’s life is proof that he caught the Gospel. He knew it wasn’t just for him. He knew that if he was going to claim Christianity, then he was not going to rest on the promise of Heaven some day at the expense of living in the here and now in such a way that “proves” that the promises New Heavens and New Earth are a reality that we either anticipate or ignore. His life anticipated this reality, and because of David’s example, I and those who knew him can anticipate God’s reconciliation of all things with great confidence and energy. Enjoy your rest, David, and I’ll see you again.