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Friday, August 19, 2011

For the Sake of the Gospel

A mother staying up all night for the sake of a sick baby; an Olympic athlete training tirelessly for the sake of a gold medal; a fireman rushing into a burning building for the sake of a trapped child; an executive turning down a big promotion for the sake of her family……

We all know what it means to make deliberate choices for the benefit of someone or something that we view to be of far greater value than that which is being sacrificed.

Whether it means realigning our priorities, doing without certain personal comforts, or even risking our very lives, there’s no telling how far the human spirit is willing to go for the sake of someone or something that is held in high regard.

That’s the way Paul felt about the Gospel.

For the sake of the Gospel, he was willing to endure hardship, imprisonment, even death in order to complete his God-given task of advancing the Good News of Jesus and His Kingdom.

For the sake of the Gospel, he became a servant to a wide range of people: the religious and non-religious; the moral and immoral; the defeated and demoralized; whoever. He didn’t take on their way of life or change his core message, but he was intent on adapting to people and connecting with them where they were at in life, taking Christ into the context that was most familiar to them.

For the sake of the Gospel, Paul vigorously defended the “purity” of the Gospel by publicly rebuking Peter for not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel, leading others astray, and even hypocrisy. Though Peter’s actions seemed innocent enough on the surface, Paul saw it as a threat to the Gospel; an unwitting attempt by Peter to impose Jewish ritual on Gentile believers and alter the very heart of “Paul’s Gospel” in the process.

For the sake of the Gospel, Paul also chose, on at least two important occasions, to willingly comply with Jewish ritual: First, by circumcising Timothy near the start of his second missionary journey; then, by freely participating in a Jewish purification rite himself at the end of his third missionary journey. In both cases, his intent was to honor the Jewish community and express his solidarity with Jewish believers by becoming a “Jew to the Jews” so that the Good News of Jesus and His Kingdom would continue to move within the Jewish context.

Paul was willing to put up with anything rather than hinder the Gospel of Christ. He saw himself as Christ’s ambassador; as someone entrusted with both a message and a task; as someone compelled to faithfully discharge the trust committed to him.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Everyday Relational Networks and a Movement of the Gospel

In the 1946 Jimmy Stewart classic “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Angel 2nd-Class Clarence Oddbody is given the arduous task of preventing George Bailey from taking his own life. In a na├»ve, bumbling sort of way, Clarence grants George the privilege of seeing what life would have been like if he had never been born.

At first, George attributes the strange, new experiences to the affects of alcohol, or a blow on the head, but he soon finds himself living a nightmare where every person he cherishes either denies they ever knew him, are dead, or simply don’t exist anymore.

As George is staring at his brother’s grave, horrified by the realization that his brother is not alive anymore because he wasn’t there to save him from drowning at the age of nine, Clarence gently drives the point home:
“Strange, isn't it?” Clarence replies softly. “Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he? You've been given a great gift, George: A chance to see what the world would be like without you. You see, George, you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it away?“
Perhaps I’m just a bit too sentimental, but I never seem to tire of that movie. The message is so very clear, and whether we're aware of it or not, our lives really do intersect with and influence the lives of so many. We can see it at work all around us. In fact, every society on the face of the earth, whether it be Japanese, Iranian, North Korean, or American, is ultimately structured around the very simple principle of interconnected relationships.

Though the Japanese are much more group oriented than we are in the West, the network of relationships nonetheless exist in both, and we can be sure that at least some of these connections are more than mere happenstance. If there's one thing we can be certain of, it's that the Holy Spirit is constantly at work orchestrating relationships.

Whether it be the people of group-oriented Japan, or the people of individual-oriented America, it is precisely within the fertile soil of these everyday relational networks where the untapped potential for a movement of the Gospel waits to emerge.

However, to see the Gospel "move" within these networks, a radically different approach to evangelism, coupled with a whole new way of thinking about ministry, is required. A different mindset, if you will, among the people of God, that is very much in line with the truth of Scripture and the heart of the Gospel.