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Archive for March, 2009

 Like many churches across the country, we’re planning our involvement with the Passion for Life mission initiative taking place in Easter 2010.  Here are ten thoughts on these kinds of missions in no particular order.

  1. ‘A mission’ should be part of a church’s ongoing life of mission.  The one-off sports event with gospel talk at half time is one thing. Having a bunch of Christians join a local sports team season by season – befriending and gospelling non-Christians there – now that’s an ongoing life of mission.  Its effects will be so much more hidden and ambiguous than the grand week of events.  But the impact will be so much greater for the kingdom.
  2. ‘A mission’ should be owned by the whole congregation.  The priesthood of all believers applies especially here.  It takes a body working together with speaking and serving gifts working in harmony.  Too often we impose a mission on an unprepared church from the top down.  The events will be unbalanced, few will bring friends and the strong impression will be given that mission is something compartmentalized – done only at special times and only by special people.
  3. The greatest problem with our ‘missions’ is that typically our Christians don’t know any non-Christians.  Not very well anyway.  Now by all means door-knock your locality. By all means lift high the name of Jesus in your community at large. But our priority must be our neighbours, friends, colleagues and families with whom we are already involved.  Or if we’re not already involved, we ought to be.  Ideally ‘a mission’ should be a dew point collecting together the scores of gospel conversations that Christians are already having with the people they’re involved with.
  4. Our perceived need for apologetic events is inversely related to our willingness to love our neighbours.  In other words – if we actually loved our neighbours we’d probably find that we didn’t ‘need’ apologetics events after all.  The real trouble is that we’re not actually involved with non-Christians, we don’t really love them.  And so the only bridge into Christian things that we can think of is an ‘apologetic’ bridge.  I use the term ‘apologetics’ advisedly (click my ‘apologetics’ tag for more).  Because 1 Peter 3:15 (where the word ‘apologetics’ comes from) is not describing the ‘apologetics’ that people tend to do today.  1 Peter 3:15 is about giving the gospel reasons for the hope that is so obviously in you as evidenced by your many and deep interactions with unbelievers.  Now if we lived in 1 Peter 3:15-world then our friends and neighbours would see this hope and would ask us about it.  We could give some kind of witness, but – joy of joys – we could also bring them along to a mission event where this gospel hope would be proclaimed by a gifted evangelist.  And if this were the case we’d be praying to God that the evangelist would stop trying to be culturally relevant and would please just sock it to our friend with Christ. The reality is that a) our hope aint that evident and b) we don’t get close enough for non-Christians to see it anyway.  Therefore the only way we can think to get non-Christians in the door is to put on talks about “What Jesus would say to the G20 summit” or whatever. 
  5. Conversion is not a process. Conversion is a miracle. How much of our evangelistic strategy belies the evangel we say we believe. 
  6. Non-Christians are nowhere near as excited by ‘A Christian view of the Credit Crunch’ as Christians are.
  7. If it’s credibility you’re after, non-Christians figure that the thing (really the only thing) that Christians can speak on credibly is Christianity.  There might be a clue there.
  8. The bible must be front and centre if people are to truly trust the living God and not simply the oratory powers of a visiting speaker.
  9. Often we greatly underestimate the amount of Christian input a non-Christian is expecting / willing to bear once they’ve accepted an invitation by a trusted Christian friend.  It’s a huge deal for a non-Christian to come to an event in the first place.  They’re basically expecting to be proselytised.  But once they get there, guess who’s afraid of proselytising?  Not them.  Us.
  10. Evangelism is summons to Christ not the presentation of interesting information.  Calling people to repent and believe the gospel at our mission events sets our evangelism in its proper context.  Just by itself a call for people to trust Christ on the night is a powerful demonstration of the nature of the gospel. We ought to call people to Christ and not simply a follow up course  

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Audio of sermon preached today on first two servant songs

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Here tis

Lots of other posts on the topic here.

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A semi-imagined conversation

— Right.  Bible reading.  Here we go – Speak Lord, your servant is listening.  Ok, Matthew 11:28.  Jesus said “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”  Ok, good verse.  Thank You Lord.  But now let me think.  What is this verse really saying to me…?  Hmm, well of course “rest” is very theologically loaded.  Right from the seventh day of creation we see eschatological perfection modelled in Sabbath….

— Glen!

— Speak Lord, your servant is listening.

— Yes you’ve already said that.  And I’ve already spoken…

— … Oh indeed you have Lord and now I’m allowing your word to inform and shape my theological understanding that I might be transformed by the renewing… Well you know how the verse goes.  Anyway I find it fascinating that you say v28 right after v27 when you declare the trinitarian, christo-centric dynamic of all revel…

— Glen! 

— Speak Lord, your servant is listening

— Are you?

— Well trying to.  That’s why I’m thinking hard about how the verse fits in with the context and with the rest of the biblical witness.  I’m allowing my whole theology to be shaped by these concepts…

— These concepts?  Glen, have you actually come to me for rest today?

— Well.  My plan is to get a properly nuanced theology of rest in place.  And once I have this understanding I imagine the experience of rest will sort of, I don’t know, umm….

— Glen?

— Speak Lord your servant is listening

— Maybe later…

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god-seriously-self-lightly-21

 

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Here’s the audio of my talk on the subject

All this began here.

Then I had some initial thoughts on the usefulness of comedy here

There’s an excellent CS Lewis quote here

Here is a very expanded early version of the talk: part one, part two, part three, part four.

Then some follow up thoughts on blasphemy here and here.

 

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Isaiah’s servant songs are:

  1. Isaiah 42:1-7
  2. Isaiah 49:1-6
  3. Isaiah 50:4-9
  4. Isaiah 52:13-53:12

Now in the songs, the servant is clearly a figure who acts on behalf of the people.  He is a covenant for the people (42:6).  He will bring Jacob and Israel back to the LORD (49:5,6).  His word is the word the people should fear (50:10). He is rejected by the people yet suffers on their behalf (all of chapter 53).

Yet “servant” is also mentioned in and around these songs:

Isaiah 41:8,9 (You O Israel are my servant)

Isaiah 42:19 (Who is blind like my servant)

Isaiah 43:10  (You are my witnesses and my servant)

Isaiah 44:1,2  (Jacob my servant)

Isaiah 44:21  (My servant O Israel)

Isaiah 45:4  (Jacob my servant)

Isaiah 48:20  (His servant Jacob)

Here ‘servant’ refers to Israel/Jacob. 

Actually this is nothing new in Isaiah.  Jerusalem for instance can stand either for the corrupt, faithless generation under the LORD’s judgement or the centre of a new heavens and new earth that lies beyond the judgement.  Jerusalem is both the problem and the hope!

In a similar way the servant of the LORD is Israel.  The people really should be the LORD’s faithful witness, judge, light, salvation etc.  Yet earthly Israel is a crushing disappointment.  Nonetheless the hope is not apart from Israel.  The hope is the TRUE ISRAEL.  This Ideal Israel is what the songs set before us.  He takes a hold of old Israel and sweeps it up into His own triumphant work as Witness, Judge, Light, Salvation etc.  Servants do that – they stand for the people – see Moses or Job for instance. In fact this Ideal Servant is spoken of as the King of Isaiah 6 (cf 52:13) – High and lifted up.  The true King sums up in Himself His people and acts on their behalf.  His victory is their victory. 

And so the people may lament the servant Israel, yet at the same time they sing about THE TRUE ISRAEL, the Ideal Servant, the KING who stands in their place and acts as Israel.  He is their hope and the Light for we Gentiles.

Anyway that seems to be the sort of interpretation of ‘the Servant’ which takes seriously both sets of verses – the songs and the surrounding references. 

The one interpretation we should laugh off is the one that says “Foolish ancient people only understood half of these verses and so had no idea that there would be an individual Ideal Servant to stand for blind Israel.  It takes a later re-reading to understand that there is an individual Ideal Servant, Jesus”.   No, no. No need for such chronological snobbery thank you very much.

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By the way – has anyone read or heard anything good on the Servant Songs??  Please do let me know in the comments.

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One more thing on blasphemy…

… Interesting that the city clerk of Ephesus did not consider Paul to have blasphemed Artemis, their goddess. (Acts 19:37)  Along with strong and clear proclamation, Paul was obviously respectful in a way that gained the notice of the pagans.

Just something to bear in mind as we speak about other religions.

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