Archive for the ‘missional living’ Category

“We do not have time to waste our lives coasting out casual, comfortable Christianity.”

— David Platt, author of “Radical,” addresses the Urbana 2012 conference.

“What plan or dream will you give your life to that is more significant than this?”

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No, It Doesn’t Make Sense — And That’s OK

Posted: November 26, 2012 by Lincoln Brunner in doubt, fear, missional living
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Acts 10 tells an earth-shaking story — angels, terror, visions of animals moving up and down on a big sheet like a linen dumbwaiter from heaven. Maybe you’ve read it.

It’s trippy stuff, but at the end of the day, it’s just about two guys obeying God when it makes no sense to do so. And it ends up changing the world.

On the one end, you have Peter, the head of the first Christian church, being told to kill animals clearly labeled unclean in the Law of Moses — and then to stop labeling things “unclean” that God has made. It’s clear later on that Peter understands this to mean people; but for the moment, that’s all he’s got.

On the other end, you have a Roman centurion in Caesarea named Cornelius being commanded by an angel to send for a Jewish guy named Simon Peter who was staying at some leather worker’s house in the city of Joppa. OK … Peter. Simon the Tanner. Joppa. Got it.

So the Roman official sends for the Jew to come before him. Peter’s seen this game before.

But this time, Peter’s gotten a sneak preview. God’s calling an audible, and Peter understands the new route. This isn’t Jesus before Pilate. And it won’t be a Roman handing down death this time — it’ll be a Roman accepting new life.

This is the first short-term cross-cultural missions trip. Paul gets all the props with the whole Antioch-to-Cyprus adventure — he did have to take a boat, after all. However, Peter was the true pioneer with his Joppa-to-Caesarea trip — a distance of only about 30 miles by land, but the distance traveled was far more than Peter had to walk. There was no precedent for this, no doctrinal basis by which to measure actions. There was just God telling Peter and Cornelius to trust Him.

On parchment, it made no sense — a Jew visiting a Gentile, and a Roman at that. But God had chosen his players carefully, two men willing to obey at the drop of a hat, sensible edict or not. And even then, he had to shock them into it. To one he sent an angel which frankly scared the pants off him. To the other he sent an acid-trip vision of animals he was supposed to kill and eat on the spot. “Paging Hunter S. Thompson … report to the killing floor immediately.”

No, God wasn’t messing around on this one, because too much was at stake. The gospel was sequestered within the Jewish community. It had to get out. Jesus had tipped his hand right before the ascension, and now he was putting legs under His game plan — Peter’s legs, to be specific. “Go, Peter, and don’t call them unclean. I made them. Got it?”

So Peter goes, tells them the story, preaches the gospel, and Cornelius and all his household get saved. Just like that. Even the die-hard skeptics back in Jerusalem, when they got Peter’s report, couldn’t do anything but praise God for the beauty of what happened that night at Cornelius’ place. What started out sounding crazy ended up looking amazing and wonderful — kind of like the gospel itself.

So if you find yourself being led to do something for God that sounds nuts to the people around you, even to yourself, don’t listen to conventional wisdom — listen to the voice telling you to do it. If it sounds like the same voice that’s comforted you in pain, answered you when you’ve called out to Him in the past, and led you to where you are now, ask yourself:

Is it crazier to do this, or to not do it?

 

Something special happened last week at the National College Media Convention in Chicago.

As some 2,000 students and advisers came to the Sheraton Hotel to sharpen their journalism skills, network with each other and accept awards, one track of faith-related sessions took things deeper. A lot deeper. In fact, I believe we are seeing the beginning of a movement of God.

In one session, photographer Darrell Goemaat from the Regular Baptist Press showed how God has placed him and his incredible skills into a full-time ministry position. Other sessions featured two fairly recent journalism grads who now work for a Christian relief agency; the Chicago Tribune’s religion reporter; and two veteran advisers helping students through the challenges of covering news on a Christian campus.

The deputy managing editor of Christianity Today, Tim Morgan, took a full hour to walk through several gospel passages and show students and advisers that Jesus can indeed be their role model as a journalist. I’m willing to bet that it was the first time anyone ever exposited scripture at a journalism convention.

Lincoln Brunner and I talked about our career paths, how God has called us to missionary journalism … and what it might look like for students seeking to follow God in that direction. While we expected that the students would be interested in what we had to say, their level of buy-in absolutely floored us.

At one point as various students – from both public and private colleges and universities – were talking about their desire to serve God with their vocations, a question popped into my mind. Again, it was one that may never have been asked at a journalism convention. But, what the heck.

“How many of you are sensing God tapping you on the shoulder and prompting you to do something specific?” I asked. Most of the hands in the room went up. Probably the closest I’ll ever come to an altar call.

So we talked through some of those promptings. Many felt called to some form of missionary journalism. Others mentioned humanitarian work … sharing their faith with someone … doing video documentaries … “speaking for the unspoken.”

In response to our potential missionary journalism internship in Costa Rica, one graduate student emailed us later: “I cannot describe the tug in my heart, nor the beckoning I feel toward this opportunity. I only know that it is of Him and that I’m ready to take a risk for Christ.” She also blogged about the convention’s Faith track and how it impacted her.

All this at a college journalism convention. We certainly claim no credit. It was sure fun to have a front-row seat, though. God is beginning to open doors, and minds, to amazing possibilities: Telling stories of what he is up to around the world, and how people can get involved.

Seems to me that is a recipe to help start a revival. Or at least to cover one.

Living a Real Life

Posted: October 5, 2012 by Lincoln Brunner in Christ's example, fear, missional living, missions

photo by Chensiyuan

I just got off the phone with one of the most courageous men I’ve ever met.

This guy — I tell you what. Talk about guts. He’s a pastor, and he walks into favelas (slums) in Rio de Janeiro that are ruled by drug lords and patrolled by traffickers toting machine guns, and he talks to them about Jesus. And he often goes at midnight, to their block parties, when they are most likely to be out on the street.

And here’s the kicker — he’s not alone. Dozens of people from his church go with him, singing and praying and breaking up into small groups that go out and evangelize the dealers and their customers.

And they do this regularly. This is inner-city ministry at its best, and its riskiest. Just the other day, one of these midnight care envoys got caught in the crossfire between a drug gang and one of the special forces police squads that hunts traffickers down and kills them. They were right in the middle of the whole thing. Not one of them got hurt, praise God, though many of them easily could have gotten shot.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this guy’s church has grown from four people, including him and his wife, to more than 700 in four years. Why? Well, there’s probably lots of reasons why, beginning with the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives, followed by the church’s insistence that Christian faith means discipleship — which means going out and reproducing believers. But how do they bring themselves to carry that out? Courage.

I think it’s plain and simple courage that drives this church forward and upward. They walk with courage born of a deep belief that Jesus has their backs and will empower them to go reach lost people, even in crime-ridden slums. Especially in crime-ridden slums.

This is a faith worth having. These are lives worth living. Scared? Sure they are. But being scared isn’t an excuse for a Christian not to do something. For Christians, courage means obeying the God who says “yes” despite the fears that say “no.”  We can trust God’s “yes” over Fear’s “no” any day.

I love hearing stories and watching movies about people who overcome fear to do something that they know they must do. Donald Miller talks a lot about this in his fantastic book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (easily his best, I believe). Think of a movie worth watching — I can almost guarantee that the story is basically about someone fighting through or overcoming some fear or obstacle on their way to getting something worth having. In fact, a story really isn’t a story without that.

That’s what made my hourlong interview with this guy seem like 10 minutes. It was the constant feeling I had that this guy’s life is going to make a great story — that this guy is living a real life. (Look for the article soon on reachglobalnews.org).

I feel bigger after I talk to someone like this pastor. It’s a feeling of “If he can do that, surely I can (fill in the blank with a much safer task).”

Living a real life means doing what you know you have to do despite your fears. In other words, living with courage. I’m really looking forward to meeting this guy someday. And I sincerely hope it’s in Rio before heaven.

Ran across some great words today from Max Lucado’s book, “Fearless”:

“When fear shapes our lives, safety becomes our god. When safety becomes our god, we worship the risk-free life. Can the safety lover do anything great? Can the risk-averse accomplish noble deeds? For God? For others? No. The fear filled cannot love deeply. Love is risky. They cannot give to the poor.  Benevolence has no guarantee of return. The fear-filled cannot dream wildly. What if their dreams sputter and fall from the sky? The worship of safety emasculates greatness. No wonder Jesus wages such a war against fear.”

You can read the entire chapter here.

However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.

Oh, and that one radio minister in Oakland, Calif.

— Matthew 24:36 (2011 expanded version)

It’s been another damage-control week for Christians, after the news media and pop culture have seized upon the predictions of one Harold Camping and his Family Radio Network. In case you’ve been hiding in your fortified bunker and haven’t heard, Camping is convinced the Rapture will happen at 6 p.m. Saturday. He also has a lot of money. So, he’s been buying billboards, radio ads and newspaper ads to warn people.

Not much more need be said about self-appointed prophets of doom with their prophecy charts and mathematical calculations. See our previous post: Say Cheese. Also see: Leeroy Jenkins.

But …

I must have heard or read a dozen conversations this week along the lines of, “If this was your last day on earth, what would you do?” This is not a bad question to ask oneself periodically. Movies like “The Bucket List” have posed it, only with the protagonists given quite a bit more time.

With only one day’s notice, your options diminish.

Would I travel? If I wanted to go anywhere exotic, I’d end up spending the whole day in an airport or on a plane. So that’s out.

Would I make a sign that says “Repent! The End is Near” and hang out at a busy intersection (which is basically what our friend Mr. Camping has been doing)? Nah. What impact am I going to have on a bunch of strangers who think I’m a nut?

Would I go 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu? Only if I wanted to spend my last day on earth in a hospital.

The one-day-to-live question actually may be a better question than the six-months-to-live question. Because it doesn’t allow for any planning, any wild trips to Vegas or Mount Everest, or even any methodical charity. You have one day. The way you’ve lived your life up until now is really all you have to draw on.

Would I spend the day with loved ones, not doing anything crazy or expensive, but just letting them know how much they mean to me? I think so. And I think a lot of other people would, too.

See, if I treat my faith like fire insurance, the one-day question becomes a lot more important than it should. Then I’m thinking: “I’d better use my last day to make up for lost time and get right with God.” Whereas, if I live intentionally and with a sense that, really, ANY day could be my last … then whether I have one day left or 20,000, it doesn’t make a big difference. I’m already right with God. I’ve shared that with as many people as I could. I have cultivated friendships and lived my faith in front of people instead of pounding them over the head with it from a safe distance.

So, yes, I do believe Jesus will return one day, as the Bible says. I also believe Mr. Camping is a nut. But if his doomsday predictions have indirectly caused people to ponder important questions, maybe he’s done some good after all. Even if we’re all still here on Sunday.

How could Osama bin Laden have hidden in plain sight in that Pakistani city for five or six years? Didn’t anyone see him? Talk to him? Invite him over for a game of lawn darts and a cold one?

I don’t know much about Pakistan’s culture, but in American suburbia, going unnoticed doesn’t even take much effort.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but Osama bin Laden could have been living in most of the houses on my street and the neighborhood never would have known. He could have driven to work every morning … taken out the trash … walked his dog (I’ll bet bin Laden had one of those annoying little yappy dogs).

We have friendly, back-fence relationships with three families on our street, and we’ve had a few conversations with two others. I’m not sure I would recognize the rest of my neighbors on sight at the mall.  And they would only know me as that really tall guy who needs to address his dandelion problem.

If you live in a well-networked neighborhood, you are an exception. And that’s anywhere: big cities, suburbs, small towns and rural roads. On college campuses, like the one where I work, more students than ever before request single rooms. People disappear for days at a time, playing video games … alone.  I’ve even been to large churches where my family and I visited several times and went completely undetected. We may as well have watched it on TV – which you can do now.

We addressed this problem last October in the post, “Dulled Ears.”

Robert Putnam’s important 2000 book, “Bowling Alone,” was researched and written before the mobile-device explosion. But even then, Putnam pointed out that America had become far less connected than in decades past – more individualistic, less community-minded. People are less likely to form a worldview because, well, we aren’t viewing the world. Just our little corner of it. 

If community is what occupies the space between people, then we here in America and in the American church have lost a lot of community in favor of … well, nothing. We’re a bunch of individuals, simply co-existing in separate, noisy realities.

That’s not a very hopeful picture of a world where we are called to be salt and light. But it’s certainly not hopeless. People still need and want community. Where that used to happen without much effort, today it takes intentionality. It’s about not being too busy to have an end-of-the-driveway conversation with a neighbor. Hey, maybe it’s even inviting them over for dinner this weekend. Or – if you want to get really crazy – getting several families involved in planning a neighborhood party.

My wife and I aren’t great at planning social events. But you know, every time we’ve intentionally set aside time to do something with the neighbors, the evening always – always – ends with, “We should do this more often.”

You probably won’t root out international terrorists in your midst. More likely, you’ll develop friendships and your neighborhood will become a better place.

There can be long debate about that gospel question, “And who is my neighbor?” But I don’t see any way to exclude the people who live on my street.