6:02 AM Off to “regions beyond” (2 Cor. 10:16). Why? I’ve discovered that upward mobility is a downer. I’m haunted by the idea that God can take average everyday people like me and use them for His purposes. There was nothing special about the 70 whom Jesus sent out two by two. And I imagine they were scared to death to be sent too. But they did what they were told to do, because Jesus was their Boss. So they girded up their loins, tightened up their sandals, took a deep breath, and away they went, elbows swinging with every step, preaching, teaching, healing. And it worked! Miracles happened because He was with them.

Serving Jesus is like making a 60-yard touchdown run. (Yes, God plays football.) And the ball’s in our hands. Let’s get out of our holy huddles (especially those of you who have the “perfect” church) and run a play or two for Jesus. Yes, you will get scraped up (or beat up — ask Paul!) along the way. But it’s pretty hard to deny the need that is out there.

By the way, there’s no sense in playing unless you expect results. Don’t limit your playing field to the stained glass aquarium (or to your living room). Jesus is building His church worldwide, and He wants to use you. That’s why you’re here in the first place. Serve Jesus and there will be pain. Live for yourself and there will be pain. There will be pain either way. So why not get your pain working for you rather than against you? Let’s unleash foot soldiers for Jesus. Don’t need to go across the world to do this either. Know how to bake a pie and take it to a neighbor? Welcome to the mission field!

We’ll, enough preaching for one day. (I have a feeling you’re a member of “the choir” anyway.) As I leave for the airport I feel very much alive. The birds are singing, and the donkeys have started munching the grass (donkeys don’t “graze”; they “munch”). God has provided all of this and a good deal more — the stars, the sun, the breeze, wives and husbands and sons and daughters and “infants to sweeten the world” (to use a phrase from an ancient prayer). I am but a tiny speck in the universe, a ripple on the ocean of life, yet God does not overlook me, cannot in fact, because He created me, redeemed me, even promised He would never leave me nor forsake me, taught me to trust Him when I was only 8 years old, a mere child but old enough to realize that we are not doomed to meaninglessness, even in the wilderness of loneliness, even when “God’s megaphone” (C. S. Lewis) of pain shouts to us, despite my keen sense of past failures, my blindness, my selfish isolation. It is heartening to think that even when the work seems so daunting, even when I feel so inadequate, I can still be a vessel bearing the life of Jesus — the way that James Fraser gave himself to the people of China many years ago because God had called him to forsake selfishness and to cease to live for himself, or the way Jim Elliott taught the Aucas what God’s love looks like by dying for them. I have been given a small assignment, but no assignment is small when God assigns it, when it helps to complete the quota of Christ’s sufferings, when we say YES to what He requires of our journey with Him simply because it’s the journey He wants to share with us. And so —

“We follow, now we follow — Yonder, yes yonder, yonder. Yonder.”

— Gerard Manly Hopkins, The Golden Echo.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of Energion titles The Jesus Paradigm, Christian Archy, and Why Four Gospels?.)

On Social Action and the Gospel

12:16 PM Alan Knox, in an outstanding blog post called There was not a needy person among them, reminds us how important mutual care was in the early church. He writes:

When a new brother or sister was in need, someone took care of that need from their own property. When someone was hungry, that person was fed. When someone needed clothing or housing, that need was met. They considered their relationships with one another as more important than their own physical well-being or their material possessions.

Today, caring for those in need is left to government agencies or parachurch organizations. Christians tend to give a little money and consider the problem shifted to others. The American Dream has replaced the concern for other Christians who are in need.

If I understand Alan correctly, he is arguing that social activity (such as feeding the poor, housing the homeless, etc.) is a fruit of the Spirit. In other words, when a person is regenerated by way of the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20), then he or she will naturally want to implement the horizontal dimensions of the Great Commandment (Matt 22:37-39).

Surely this is a vital dimension of biblical Christianity. And the order, I believe, is significant. In some circles, “missions” is almost completely disassociated from evangelism. According to Weber and Welliver (Missions Handbook, 2007, p. 13), in the U.S. the increase in income from 2001 to 2005 for relief and development was 73.4 percent while for evangelism and discipleship it was only 2.7 percent. I have personally known some “mission” organizations in Ethiopia that engage in service to the community (building hospitals and schools, digging wells, etc.) without any mention of the Gospel. In my opinion, they have failed to keep the main thing the main thing. The supreme need of the nations is the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

But I need to add a careful rider here. Evangelism and social action are not opposed to each other. They are, as John Stott puts it, “two blades of a pair of scissors.” Because Becky and I believe this to be true, we have become involved in several efforts in Ethiopia to address the economic and health concerns of the people there. Perhaps the most visible expression of this concern is the Health Clinic we opened in Burji several years ago. (It has since been upgraded to a Health Center.) I need to emphasize, however, that the primary purpose of the Health Center is evangelism because we firmly believe that individual regeneration by the grace of God is, in the final analysis, the best solution to humanity’s individual and social problems. As Alan noted in his post, Christian social responsibility presupposes socially responsible Christians, and it is only through evangelism and discipleship that people can become committed to holistic missional work.

I remain deeply concerned about what I perceive to be a growing shift in emphasis today from proclaiming the kingdom of God to a purely economic and social gospel. This is like putting the cart before the horse. The Anabaptist Balthazar Hubmaier answered the charge that he required communal ownership of property by stating:

Concerning community of goods, I have always said that everyone should be concerned about the needs of others, so that the hungry might be fed, the thirsty given to drink, and the naked clothed. For we are not lords of our possessions, but stewards and distributors. There is certainly no one who says that another’s goods may be seized and made in common; rather, he would gladly give the coat in addition to the shirt.

The Anabaptists held that the church is a voluntary society comprised of Christians who are bound to each by the reality of the new birth. These “believers” live apart from the world but do not shun it. They do not accumulate wealth but are content with their basic necessities. They help each other faithfully, having everything in common out of sheer love for their neighbor. They live a lifestyle that matches their responsibility to a lost and dying world.

This too was apparently the blessed experience of the early church in Acts. Through their relationship to Jesus Christ, these believers became detached from their worship of earthly things. They experienced freedom from covetousness and greed and seemed to be able to escape the “spend-and-consume” merry-go-round that Satan is now using to hold our American families in bondage. But, thank God, escape is still possible today! When we learn to embrace the Jesus way of life, when we can plan habitually to go without things for Christ’s sake, then we have begun to live the life of “reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1-2) that is acceptable to God. Wherever you are, there are needy neighbors. And there is a cross for you to bear. God has a path of self-sacrifice for every one of us if we will but ask Him for the privilege of self-denial.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of Energion titles The Jesus Paradigm, Christian Archy, and Why Four Gospels?.)

A Legacy of the Greatest Generation

From Dave Black Online:

9:18 AMOn this, the 67th anniversary of D-Day (our invasion of Nazi-occupied France), I can’t help but reflect on World War II. My parents’ generation has been called “The Greatest Generation” because they fought the Nazis and mobilized for the Cold War. What we forget is the fiscal burden they placed on their posterity, producing an American political system that seems utterly incapable of tackling any big multigenerational problems, including our national debt. America has entered an irreversible downward spiral. We had better understand this new era we’re entering. Continue reading A Legacy of the Greatest Generation