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Real-Time ConnectionsLinking Your Job with God's Global Work
By Bob Roberts Jr.
ZondervanCopyright © 2010 Bob Roberts Jr.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRethinking the Great Commission
"These who have turned the world upside down have come here also ..." ACTS 17:6
I was watching the Olympics on television when I saw something that made me stop and think. It began with an ad for Coca-Cola, celebrating the 122-year history of the soft drink. I still find it amazing that when I travel all over the world - from deserts to jungles to some hole in the wall in the middle of nowhere - no matter where I go I can always find a Coke! The Coke ad was followed by a commercial celebrating the hundred-year anniversary of General Motors, offering everyone the employee discount for purchasing a vehicle. Like Coke, which has become a global phenomenon, the automobile has become an indispensable reality, the primary mode of transportation all over the world. As I was sitting there watching these ads, it suddenly hit me-if Coke and GM can engage the world, why can't we as Christians, with the power of the Holy Spirit and the powerful motivation of the Great Commission?
THE CHURCH IN THE WEST VERSUS THE FIRST-CENTURY CHURCH
Centuries ago, the chief driver of global engagement was the church. Christians, because of God's unique work in their lives, not onlyhave human hearts that grieve over suffering, but the Holy Spirit that lives within them, empowering them to fulfill what Christ has called them to do in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. But world transformation isn't just something for pastors and religious professionals to talk about as they inspire others to join a church or join a program. For the world to be transformed by Jesus it will take every one of us; every follower of Jesus Christ is gifted by God and called to impact the world, right where they are. It's time for us to turn the world upside down!
Far too often, when the church in the West thinks about the rest of the world, she lacks creativity and insight. Church leaders have no problem coming up with creative and innovative ways of doing church in their own backyard; yet when asked to engage in global missions, they default to a colonial response. The truth is, if we are honest with ourselves, we really don't understand the world we live in. We have not fully grasped the reality of the changing world, this new phenomenon we call "globalization." Churches in the West are stuck in a mind-set that puts them at the center of everything God is doing. And though we use words like missional and emergent, when it comes to engaging our brothers and sisters in other nations we operate from archaic, outdated models of cultural engagement. For all of our focus on reinventing the church, perhaps we just need to get back to the basic teachings of Scripture and respond to what God has called us to do - make disciples.
That first-century church turned the world upside down. The first disciples took the Great Commission, given to them by Jesus, and went to the farthest reaches of the known world. They traveled to the east and to the west, from Spain to India, and went to the north and to the south, from Britain to Africa. The generations between that first-century explosion and our own have dreamed of fulfilling the Great Commission, but actual achievement of that dream has been limited by tools and time.
Today we have the means to do what no generation has ever done. In addition to the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, we have jet planes and the internet. The opportunities for travel and communication between people and nations are unprecedented. For the first time in history, all the necessary elements, divine and human, are present to enable us to take the gospel to every person throughout the world. Fulfilling the Great Commission is no longer simply a question of potential - the possibility of completion is real. Completion is now a matter of obedience and dependence on God's Spirit.
Though we have the potential to turn the world upside down, much like those first disciples, we will first have to turn our own thinking upside down and take a fresh look at how they accomplished their task. In the years between their time and ours, the process of evangelism has undergone some radical changes, distorting our understanding of God's mission in this world. What is the Great Commission? How was it meant to be fulfilled? What would it look like if every follower of Jesus were to take it seriously? We need to rethink the answers to questions such as these.
We need to ask the most elementary questions all over again. Do we really know what the Great Commission is? What would it look like if it were fulfilled? How do we fulfill it? Is it a program where churches gather funds to send missionary pastors and their families to preach the gospel in foreign countries? What is the relationship between the church and the government, and how does this affect our thinking about the Great Commission? Is church planting the best way to fulfill the Great Commission?
FULFILLING THE GREAT COMMISSION
That's a lot of questions! Let's begin by taking a fresh look at the Great Commission, reading it as if we had never read it before:
Jesus came to them and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18 - 20)
The essence of the commission that Jesus gave to his disciples is to "go, and make disciples of all nations." "Go" is in a Greek grammatical construction that denotes "as you are going." It suggests that being a follower of Jesus is something we do naturally, on a regular basis. It's not referring to a special "missionary mode" that we turn on in certain situations. Jesus expressed this part of the Great Commission to define a way of life for his followers, a mind-set to inform their understanding of what it means to be his disciples. Disciples are always in a state of readiness to engage in this mission.
The second part of that phrase refers to making disciples. But what does it mean to "make disciples"? And what is meant by the phrase "all nations"? If we can find biblical answers to these two questions, we are well on our way to understanding Jesus' Great Commission.
To find what it means to "make disciples," we turn to the book of Acts, which recounts the disciples' fulfilling the Great Commission. It is helpful to study the Gospels if you want to understand discipleship, but the book of Acts gives us a unique understanding of what it looks like when the teachings of Jesus are reproduced in the lives of his followers. How did the making of disciples actually happen in the early church?
In Acts 1 - 10 the New Testament church stays narrowly focused on two geographic areas: Jerusalem and Judea. Then, in Acts 11:19 - 26, something changes that takes our understanding of Jesus' commission and the process of making disciples to a new level. Several men, most likely businessmen of some type, find themselves on the run as persecution breaks out in Jerusalem. These men, from Cyprus and Cyrene, wind up in Antioch. As they settle into making a life in this new city, working and making a living, they also start telling others about Jesus. Eventually, a church develops in Antioch - a missionary church that ends up sending out the first missionaries to the Gentile world, Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:1 - 4). These two missionaries take the gospel to many unreached places. And just a few chapters later they find themselves returning home to Antioch, having "turned the world upside down."
What did Paul and Barnabas do that changed the world and turned everything "upside down"? In Acts 17 Luke gives us an early understanding of the Great Commission and how these first disciples understood and practiced it.
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. Paul, as was his custom, went in to them, and for three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ." (Acts 17:1 - 3)
The Jews at Thessalonica did not merely believe with their heads, they took Paul's words to heart. So many turned to Christ that others became disturbed and caused a civic uproar. They rounded up Paul, Silas, and those who had hosted them and took them before the city leaders.
The point here is not that preaching the gospel causes trouble (though, of course, it sometimes does). The point is that making disciples leads to a noticeable change in the community. In Matthew 25, Jesus taught his disciples to feed the hungry, give water and clothing to those in need, provide shelter for the homeless, and seek justice for those who are oppressed. In Acts 2 we see the disciples living out a new way of life as they share their finances, food, and resources with one another. Throughout Acts there are miracles of healing, deliverance from demons, and other such signs. This is a different kind of community and it has a different kind of impact on the cities and towns where it exists. These early Christians have a message to believe, but they also live out a compelling model of God's love before a world that is watching them. We know that historically, at least one Roman emperor, Julian, emperor from AD 360 to 363, used the example of Christians to inspire a return to polytheism, urging his own followers to serve one another like the Christians served each other and those in their communities.
Sadly, in many of our communities, we do not see this kind of impact. Rarely does our evangelism lead to deep changes in our neighborhoods and cities. I believe this is due to the fact that much of our evangelism is focused on making converts instead of disciples. There's a big difference between a convert and a disciple. Making a convert is often a hit-and-run proposition. The goal in conversion, as it is typically understood, is to get someone to say, "I accept Jesus in my heart," and to be baptized. Once that goal has been accomplished, we tend to move on to the next person, assuming that our job is done. This leads to a shallow and superficial understanding of what conversion is. Though we may talk about life change and may preach
Excerpted from Real-Time Connections by Bob Roberts Jr. Copyright © 2010 by Bob Roberts Jr.. Excerpted by permission.
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