The Big Bang Became Flesh…

In our continuing celebration of the Incarnation, we must remember that Jesus was born into a specific culture and that that culture was quite dissimilar to our Western culture. The Christ was embodied, that is he became flesh, and he dwelt, in doing so he ‘localized’ the Good News. He presented himself and his ministry in ways that were easily understood in that local culture. The Pharisees, for instance, had no difficulty in recognizing and reacting to his claims, as they ‘despised and rejected’ him. There was much that remained shrouded in mystery until Pentecost but Jesus ‘enculturated’ the Good News so that it could be: heard, understood, accepted or rejected by those who heard him and witnessed his activity.

Early in my career, I remember a growing frustration as I tried to preach about the ‘Parable of the Lost Sheep’ to my Cree audience. These were folks who had no experience of sheep and didn’t have a vocabulary that easily accommodated the concept. Part way through my scripted message I realized that “This is not working!” and made a shift. This was not my finest moment as a missioner. I learned that day that culture is vital. I needed to communicate in a way that could be heard and responded to, by the folks of a very different culture!

For years I have been doing this for myself. I have a constant need to understand the culture of Scripture and how to apply it to my own. There is a danger to this process. I can easily misapply Scripture by giving precedence to my culture rather than the truths of Scripture. We call this the error of syncretism. We use, or rather misuse Scripture to defend our culture.

As ‘missioners’ (those sent), we are called to brave the danger of syncretism. God is sending us “into the world” to share the Good News. We do this in a certain culture and we need to ‘enculturate’ the gospel.

This week I have been continuing to ponder the Christmas message “The Word became flesh…” At the writing of this John’s readers would have heard the word “Logos” or “Word” and ‘got it. The idiom was a part of their understanding and their culture. I began to ‘noodle on this’. “How would I say the same thing in our Western Postmodern culture, so that people would similarly grasp the concept?”

The answer I came up with is, “The Big Bang became flesh”. For certain creationists this may be a jarring phrase and seem like syncretism, but I think people who have not heard the Good News can hear this and respond to it. I tried the phrase first with a person who I respect for his theological understanding. He agreed that it was an apt phrase. I imagine trying it with a non-believing intellectual. This person might well scoff off the idea but would immediately understand what I was saying. I did try it with one of my ‘street level’ friends, who knows the phrase mostly from the television show and he too understood what I was getting at right away. We read through John chapter one changing “Word” for Big Bang and my friend excitedly admitted that for the first time it made sense to him.

We are called to incarnate the Good News. We are placed in a certain culture and it is here that we must live out and proclaim this Gospel. As well as incarnation we must be concerned with enculturation. Danger lurks along the way, but this is a road we must travel if we are to follow Jesus. We can only rely on the help of his Spirit.

We had a great time at our Christmas Dinner Party. There were over 30 helpers and about 90 guests. Everyone left satisfied and happy. I left exhausted! The next morning another group of over 20 volunteers put on a lavish breakfast. Again no one left hungry or feeling unloved. After we set the room back up ready for Sunday Worship, I came home weary but, oh so contented! Thank you for your prayers. I have an idea about next year’s Christmas Outreach. I’m excited already!

…And Dwelt Among Us

I hug or kiss my wife not just to show her that I love her, but to actually love her! The act is not a mere representation but a true expression. The Incarnation is not only a demonstration of God’s love for the world it is God’s means of actually and actively loving the world! Through the Incarnation we learn that love does not come in theory or prophecy or poetry, but it comes most powerfully embodied.

The anointed Christ comes in flesh. The angels announce Good News, “which shall be to all people…” The incarnate 2nd person of the Trinity declares the purpose of Incarnation. “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” God does this in person! God shows up in the flesh, in order to love us!

Incarnation remains as the authentic ‘gold standard’ of love. Incarnation remains the truest way to effectively proclaim the love of God to the world.

Several years ago, I had the joy of leading a college dedicated to the formation of evangelists. I believed then as I believe now that the Good News must be embodied in order to be well proclaimed. I purposed that we would ‘form’ our evangelist, amid, and in the company of the urban poor. By dwelling with the folks of the inner-city our evangelists learned compassion and the power of incarnation.

If the world could be won by information alone, we would surely drop leaflets from the sky. If people were saved by baptism, we would surely hire water bombers to deluge the masses. But the Good News comes to the world through incarnation and it is our task to inhabit and indwell this world so that God’s love is evidenced in this convincing fashion.

I am thrilled that Threshold Ministries has a new project, tentatively titled “Indwell”. This is an internship project allowing people to live with (dwell with) the urban poor and to engage in ministry alongside veteran missioners. This project takes seriously the message of Christmas as it seeks to equip and loose a new generation of evangelists. Please keep this project in your prayers.

As I write this, I will soon be off to ready things for our Christmas Dinner Party. We will be hosting folks from our wider community for a Turkey and all the trimmings dinner. A local youth basketball team, their coaches and parents will be preparing and serving the meal. The tables and atmosphere will be decorated for the occasion. We had so many volunteers that we decided to add a breakfast tomorrow morning put on by yet another team. It is our prayer that as we continue to dwell with the folks of our community that they will recognize and respond to the ‘Great Good News’ the good news of Love come down at Christmas.

Telling My Story

The title captured my attention “Evangelism in a Skeptical World” by Dr. Sam Chan. I quite liked it, mostly because it confirms much of what I feel about evangelism, and don’t we all like the voices from the echo chamber that tell us “we are right!”. I was interested though when Chan explained a new, or at least new to me, method of sharing my story. Rather than the “I was born into a Christian family …” or “My life as prodigal was ….”  versions which are limited in variety and relatability, Chan proposes a personalized and unique, to me, story. It need not be a conversion story but illustrates the reasons that I am glad to have Christ in my life. I can tell that part of my story which is most relatable to my friend.

He suggests we relate our ‘life mission’ apart from Christ what we were purposed to do and be and the results of living out that mission.

I was born as the middle child. I was determined not to be ruled by my older and stronger brothers. I became someone who schemed and scammed to get my way in life. I developed humour as weapon to wield against more powerful people. Cleverness and humour became my native language. As long as these worked for me, I felt secure, but these proved ineffective tools for many of the situations to confront me in life.

By themselves being clever or being funny are not bad at all. In fact, I think that native cleverness and humour are rich gifts from God, but they are poor substitutes for the security which I have discovered in my relationship with Jesus. Now that I have come to know acceptance in the family of God, I do not need to cleverly scheme, or use humour to deflect. I know who I am by virtue of my connection with the creator and now I can use my God given gifts creatively and for positive purposes.

These gifts which have derailed me, so often, in the past, now are great assets to me in my life of mission and evangelism. I have great fun coming up with clever ways to engage others whether it is in giving electric blankets, taking people on holidays or throwing a Fandango. Our Drop In is a place filled with laughter because of my gift of humour. People come in sad or angry and are lifted due to the positive fun we have.

I have often heard the phrase “God has a wonderful plan for your life”. I use it seldom thinking that it is truth better learned in hind-sight but it is a truth. God plans to take the broken me and restore me. I do not become less as he heals me, but I become more.

Day to day I can still easily fall into the bad habits of scheming to get my way or using humour as weapon. I need God’s help every day and I need his forgiveness too! The good news is that God promises both. Isn’t that Good News!


Evangelism in Suburbia

I was asked by a friend who pastors a suburban church in a fairly affluent area, “How do you evangelize in my community?” Very few churches effectively evangelize in suburbia but my friend was asking the wrong question. Evangelism is evangelism! It is the same everywhere. The better question is “What are the obstacles to evangelism in suburbia?”

My belief is that the answer is ‘privacy’. People who live in these neighbourhoods share the same desire for privacy. Each family lives in a silo of its own design. All truly effective evangelism is relational and so these households are ‘immune’ to evangelism by virtue of their isolation from those who are ‘infected’ with the Gospel. The key is not a slicker presentation but a patient penetration of individual silos.

Patience is not a virtue practised in most Church outreach plans. Churches that seem successful in suburbia are more likely to be recipients of a ‘shuffle of the sheep’ , than of real evangelism. We should not entirely discount this, though, we ought to ask what makes this church’s outreach more attractive?

I advocate a steady patient penetration of these individual silos. In the inner-city it is easier to gather larger groups around obvious felt needs but it is less than easy to infiltrate each private household. Suburban evangelism then cannot be done by an individual or a small group of individuals because of the sheer enormity of the number of households. The answer lies in the mobilization of all the members of the church to build personal networks that breach the silo barriers of privacy. In effect we need to be invited into the closed circle of privacy. This is a prerequisite of any evangelism!

Once the privacy barrier has been breached through friendship and shared interests evangelism can begin to take place.

The problem is that most churches have not the patience or vision for this task. We want it easy and instant and nothing of any lasting value is ever easy or instant. The leadership of too many churches wastes too much time on programs of attraction and too little time on the hard work of coaching people in penetrating households, building wholesome loving relationships.

Inner-city evangelism is not without its challenges. There is no easy place to do the work of the evangelist! Patience and prayer remain paramount whether for you in your small corner or I in mine.

I had a really encouraging encounter with Adrian. He made his third visit to our Healing Clinic”. He suffers with tinnitus and issues of anxiety. He came this week very excited as he is noting progress and he has found some dental treatments that are very promising to help him. He is grateful for prayer and will be back in a few weeks to let me know how he is doing. He is paying much more attention to his spiritual life as a result of our lengthy conversations and prayer. Please keep Adrian in your prayers.