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Change the World
Daily Inspiration to Make a Difference
By Mike Slaughter
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2011 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN
"Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
When we pray these words, do we really mean it? What we are asking is for God's rule and reign to become a reality here on earth, just as it is in heaven. This challenges many of the traditions and paradigms within Christianity today.
Jesus' hermeneutic—his way of interpreting the Scriptures—was considered heretical by the religious scholars of his day. Our faith practice has also become a distortion of Jesus' gospel of the kingdom of God. We often embrace a disembodied "saved for heaven" theology. We have overemphasized getting people into heaven to the neglect of getting heaven into earth. The greatness of Christianity should be measured not by how many profess to be Christians but by how many people are serving those Christ served.
Jesus only had 120 followers when he left planet earth. By most standards, his ministry would be deemed an utter failure. But Jesus used a very different measure. Jesus saw faith as an active verb and not a noun. His followers practiced what I call mission evangelism. They understood that the mission was not to get the world into the church but to get the church into the world!
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are to be actively engaged in meeting the needs and closing the gaps of disparities for the least of these. The world will see the relevance of the gospel when we fully embrace and live the biblical mandate to love like Jesus. John Wesley called it the demonstration of "social holiness."
Too often we Christians suffer from a numbers neurosis. Let's quit worrying about how many of us there are and focus on being the hands and feet of Jesus in our homes, communities, and the outermost places of the world. It is time for us to rediscover and reclaim the message and mission of Jesus!
What can you do today to make your faith a verb, rather than a noun? What will you do to put feet to your faith?
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, ... to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor. (Isaiah 61:1-2)
You might say that these words from the prophet Isaiah were Jesus' mission statement. Jesus read these words in his inaugural message in his hometown. Isaiah had foretold "the year of the LORD's favor"—the dawn of the messianic kingdom—and Jesus proclaimed its arrival. Jesus' message focused on the kingdom of God's present influence in the world—a righting or restoration of God's created order on earth. He spoke not about going to heaven when we die, but about recognizing that heaven has come to earth.
When John sent word to Jesus from his prison cell, asking if he was truly the one who had been promised through the centuries by the prophets (Luke 7:18-19), Jesus did not go into a theological discourse. He simply pointed to the physical evidence of the presence of the power of God to complete the works of God: "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor" (Luke 7:22).
Jesus claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah whose presence would signify the arrival of God's kingdom and the restoration of all things. The evidence of his claims was not in his words but in the fruit of God's works. After Jesus read the passage from Isaiah 61, announcing the messianic presence in the synagogue in Nazareth, he dropped the big bombshell: "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21). The evidence was the direct intervention of God's heart and healing purpose in the lives of the poor and broken.
As followers of Jesus and citizens of the messianic kingdom, we are to continue Jesus' work. We are not to escape from the world's diseased brokenness but to engage the world and all those in it at the greatest places of need. We are not waiting for heaven but are actively rebuilding, restoring, and renewing the lives of broken people and shattered communities. Yes, we are waiting for the return of the King. But it is not passive waiting! As we wait, we are to faithfully demonstrate the good news of the kingdom by embracing a countercultural lifestyle—a visibly sacrificial lifestyle—that causes non-Christians to pay serious attention.
In what ways is your lifestyle "countercultural"? Think of one change you can make to begin living more sacrificially for the sake of the kingdom.
GOD'S FAVORED CHILD
Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor.
Every parent is guilty of showing favoritism at times to one child over the other. Often, the child who appears to get the most attention from a parent is not the one for whom everything is going smoothly, but the one who is struggling the most or most troubled at the time. One of my children is a lot like me. She is strong-willed and determined. Those years between eleventh grade and her sophomore year in college were challenging to say the least. My son is more like his mother. He was very obedient and never really rebelled. But just because Kristen had our intense focus didn't mean that we loved her more or less than her brother. For a time she simply required more focused attention.
God, our Heavenly Parent, does not show favoritism, as Romans 2:11 reminds us. Yet in the Bible God clearly gives priority to the poor. Jesus affirms this priority in the parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14). God's guests at the party ultimately become the poor, crippled, lame, and blind.
Why does God give such priority to the poor?
The world tends to determine and assign human "worth" based on what a person has—education, money, position, or influence. God, on the other hand, has a different value system. In the kingdom of God, a person has worth because of who he or she is—a child created in God's image. God does not value you more than another because you were born in a First World economy with all the luxuries it affords. The truth is, for two thirds of the world's population, poverty is simply the consequence of latitude and longitude—not the result of a lack of initiative. God loves and values the poor, and God wants us to have the same heart of compassion for those in need.
We have become calloused, indifferent, and insulated from the needs of our brothers and sisters lying at our doorstep. It's time to wake up and take a good look around us. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing. The global economic crisis that began in 2008 has only accelerated the erosion of the middle class. We are facing challenging times. Yet what an opportunity we have to rebuild, restore, and renew in devastated places! This is not a time to fear or to insulate ourselves from pain and suffering around us; it is a time to repent and realign our priorities and resources with the message and mission of Jesus.
What is one thing you can do to "show favor" to the working poor or homeless in your area?
CRUISE SHIP RELIGION
"Whoever wishes to be great among you must ... be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
(Matthew 20:26-28 NRSV)
Have you ever been on a cruise? A cruise is a hedonistic experience of extravagance and excess. Okay, so maybe I've never been on one, but my parents have gone on thirteen cruises in the last ten years. I feel vicariously bloated every time my dad talks about the buffets.
People choose a cruise for the experience of vacation and retreat. You expect to be served. After all, no one leaves a mint on your pillow in the evening or makes your bed in the morning when you are home. You work so hard all the other weeks of the year. You deserve to be pampered! On a cruise your involvement is totally based on self-interest. You can select from a seemingly endless menu of activities. Explore the interior of a tropical island, whale watch among the glaciers, or swim with the dolphins. Lie on a beach or snorkel among the exotic fish along a living coral reef. If you prefer, you never need to leave the boat. Rock climbing, golf lessons, theaters, and swimming pools are just a few of the opportunities that invite your time. The only requirement is plenty of money to cover the expenses!
Some Christians practice a kind of "cruise ship" religion. They expect to be served rather than to serve. They feel they've put in their time and deserve to sit back and let others do the work. They're interested in enjoying their religion and getting what they want from it. They're willing to give of themselves only when it is convenient and personally advantageous. And they tend to spend the majority of their money on themselves rather than giving sacrificially for the benefit of others.
The opposite of cruise-ship religion is servant discipleship—or mission evangelism. Mission evangelism is more like being in a mission outpost in a challenging place of great human need. Unlike life on a self-contained cruise ship, mission evangelism is outward focused, actively helping to meet the needs of the poor and marginalized through the church as it partners with social agencies, public schools, government and nongovernment organizations, and other faith groups. Mission evangelism is also experimental and flexible. Like Lewis and Clark mapping an uncharted route to the West, those who practice mission evangelism take risks and plan as they go.
In the words of Catholic theologian Hans Kung, "[We must] play down our longing for certainty, accept what is risky, and live by improvisation and experiment." If we will get off the boat, follow where Jesus leads, and love as Jesus loved, we're guaranteed the adventure of a lifetime.
In what ways are you staying "in the boat" spiritually? What risk is God calling you to take in order to love others as he loves them? Tell a friend about it and ask him or her to hold you accountable.
THE GREAT REQUIREMENT
He has showed [all you people] what is good, And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
This verse tells us what God requires of us: to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. But what does this mean?
First, God calls us to do justice—not to just believe in justice or study justice. We have power from God for our actions toward people, especially the poor and marginalized.
Justice is a core biblical theme. The very foundation of God's kingdom is established on justice (Psalm 89:14). As followers of Jesus, we must always speak and act on behalf of those who lack voice or influence. We must go where Jesus is going, do what Jesus is doing, and be who Jesus is being for the orphan and widow.
This requires our involvement in the political process. We must be political for the sake of giving voice and vote to those who are denied, but we must repent of our partisanship. No political party speaks for Jesus and his kingdom. As his followers, we stand in a prophetic tension with the systems and ideologies of the world. How then are we to engage politically?
It is not enough to just donate money and send aid. The church has been guilty far too many times of passivity and even participation in the injustices that have robbed people of dignity and destroyed human lives. Followers of Jesus must never stand idly by in the face of injustice but must work tirelessly to do justice.
Second, we are to be living demonstrations of God's mercy. Mercy is closely related to grace—receiving what one doesn't deserve or hasn't earned. God accepts us, demonstrated through the redemptive offering of his son on the cross, in spite of our brokenness and failures. Mercy is the generous demonstration of indescribable grace! Our call is to practically demonstrate God's mercy to the people in our communities through acts of service that provide daily life necessities.
Third, we are to serve others humbly, regardless of cultural, political, moral, or creedal differences. We serve without expectation of return or self gain. This is what it means to walk humbly with God. It's not about us or for us. It's about serving Jesus in other people: "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat" (Matthew 25:35).
Humbly demonstrating the gospel through acts of compassion builds trust and opens the door for future dialogue. Justice. Mercy. Humility. Jesus' mission centered around these three biblical mandates. As his followers, we should focus on the same.
What group that lacks voice or influence are you passionate about? What can you do to speak out or stand up for their interests? Go a step further and plan to participate in a hands-on outreach effort aimed at meeting the needs of individuals in this group.
THE GREAT COMMANDMENT
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15:12-13 NRSV)
As a follower of Jesus, you simply cannot live out this mandate and stay in comfortable places. Loving others as Jesus loved requires sacrifice.
Every day, followers of Jesus Christ venture out into uncomfortable places to act in love for people they've never before met. The tremendous work of rehabilitation in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is just one of many examples. Ginghamsburg Church has sent well over fifty work teams in the last five years since the devastating catastrophe hit New Orleans and the Gulf area. Some of our people have given up their vacation weeks to return as many as four and five times. People spend their Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks lifting the hopes and restoring the residences of those who have been ripped off by insurance companies and contractors. They do it because they are compelled by the love of Jesus.
Can you imagine how the world would be different if Christians everywhere—A.K. A. the church—stopped doing what Jesus commanded us to do? Think of all the economies and social services that would be affected due to the loss of unpaid servant labor and financial resources: schools, clinics, daycares, counseling centers, intervention and faith-based programs, homeless shelters, food pantries, GED programs, senior programs ... Need I go on? The church is the largest nongovernment/nonprofit social agency in the United States.
How would your community be different if your church closed its doors tomorrow? What difference would it make if you and the other Christians you know stopped loving others after the example of Jesus?
Jesus calls us to make sacrifices—of our time, our money, our comfort—to serve others. "Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it," Jesus says (Mark 8:35). Jesus never said it would be easy, but Jesus lost his own life for our sake to show us that self-sacrificial love really can change the world.
What hard thing is God calling you to do? What will you have to sacrifice in order to follow that calling?
THE GREAT COMMISSION
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:18-20)
Jesus has commissioned us to go and make disciples "of all." This requires us to serve without expectation, honoring all people as children who are created in God's image. We must work outside all walls, barriers, and limitations to promote God's justice through the demonstration of generous and practical acts of mercy. We must live Christlike lifestyles of sacrifice and simplicity that demonstrate the love of God revealed in the cross. Of course, this is all to no avail if we are not actively committed to building authentic Christ followers—disciples. And yet we cannot build authentic disciples unless we demonstrate the love of God revealed in the cross.
Excerpted from Change the World by Mike Slaughter. Copyright © 2011 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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