Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Change for a servant

I am going to say a word which is guaranteed to turn off most people. It is a word that has such a negative reaction in some circles you would think it was a curse word. It is a word some feel is ungodly and represents all that is wrong with the church today. It is something we think we can avoid—but we are only fooling ourselves. Are you ready: change.

Change is one of those words no one really likes to hear. It suggests there is something wrong with the status quo. It implies my comfort in the current is temporary. It implies discomfort in the near future. Oh we don’t like it! Yet change is inevitable among living things. Lack of change indicates lack of growth. Even that is a misnomer. There is no static condition among living organisms. You are either growing or dying. In either condition change occurs, doesn’t it?

When it comes to organizations and institutions there are good reasons to change, not so good reasons to change, and bad reasons to change. Some people want to experience change because they are bored. Well, that’s not really bad—but it’s not necessarily good is it? It’s so subjective. I may be bored with one thing now—tomorrow I might not be bored with the very same thing! It depends on my present attitude. Another reason to change is that my needs aren’t being met. Not completely a bad reason—but not a very good one though when it comes to serving God—because serving God is not about meeting my needs but about (are you ready for this?) serving God! Wanting my own needs met seems almost antithetical to the life of Jesus who died to his own desires to redeem others.

A good reason to change is if I find myself doing something that does not accomplish God’s calling on my life. The theological word for that is repentance—to change your life’s direction; to change your attitude.

Over the past few weeks we’ve examined this idea of becoming a servant—or a slave. Christ followers are called to be slaves of God, slaves of each other, and slaves of people. We are called to serve others—to love and care for them with God’s love. But we’ve left out one more item. We are not just called to be a slave to others. We are called to be slaves to the mission God has given us.

Jesus didn’t just serve hurting people. He served his ultimate mission: the redemption of the world. In Mark 1:32-39, Jesus was involved in a successful healing ministry in Capernaum, but then he disappears. He goes off to a wilderness for a time of prayer and contemplation. With Peter and the others find him they exclaim: “Everyone is looking for you!” (Presumably so he can do some more healing). But Jesus says: Let’s go somewhere else—to the nearby villages so that I may proclaim there also. That is why I have come. Jesus had a mission and nothing was going to deter his serving the mission. Later on he doesn’t even allow his friend Peter to come between him and the mission. When Peter tries to deter him Jesus calls him Satan and tells him to back off.

According to Luke Jesus resolutely set his face to Jerusalem where he would face death on a cross: that was his mission—to proclaim and to provide release for the world through an incredible act of self-sacrifice. After his resurrection Jesus gave all his followers this mission: proclaim the message of what I’ve done—make people into Christ-followers, disciples; be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the utter most parts of the earth. Paul understood the mission as being ambassadors for Jesus appealing to everyone to be brought into relationship with Jesus.

So what’s all of this have to do with change? Quite simply, if we are going to be faithful to the mission we have been given by God there are some changes we have to make. To avoid these changes is to fail in our faithfulness. What changes?

Change one: We are called to leave the comfort of institutional Christianity and embrace an apostolic outlook. Another way to say this is we must change our view of “church” from an organization existing for the benefit of its members to a mission outpost in a new culture. The Bible has never made a distinction between a mission out post and a church. The church in the first century was a mission outpost! To create a distinction between church and mission is to excuse ourselves from faithfully serving the mission given to us!

Change two: We are called to change our approach to the world around us. We have often presented a uniform look of what a Christian in America is to look like. That look is a well dressed middle classed American! That immediately alienates both the rich and the poor! Furthermore, we’ve missed the tremendous changes in our society. American society is no longer monolithic. We have bikers, cowboys, businessmen, blue collar workers, Muslims, Hindus, Hispanics, African-Americans, rappers, extreme sports enthusiasts, truckers, Asian Americans, Czechs—we live in a culture that is permeated with mini-tribes—even here in Ennis. If we are going to communicate the story of Jesus to these various cultures then we have to go where they are and speak their language. Paul paves the way for us in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Paul says this is a matter of discipline! We must change ourselves and change our natural desire to remain comfortable so we may reach as many people as possible.

Change three: change our patterns of friendships. We must, as Christ followers, swallow hard and begin to be friends and servants of the people around us; not in a manipulative way. No, we don’t dump people if they don’t accept our message. We don’t surprise them with Amway for Christ approaches. But we love them and serve them whether they ever accept the message—but always look for the opportunity to engage them in discussion of Jesus.

How do we flesh this out? How does this look like in Darryl’s life, for instance? For me, it means I'm getting out on the street more. Not to preach on street corners mind you. But I’ve been brainstorming with friends about finding ways to serve people at some of the local apartment complexes. Maybe offer children’s story telling in their community centers in order to build relationships with moms and dads. I'm personally committing to finding folks in the community—not-yet-Christians who want someone to listen to them. And I'm going to listen! And find every way to put in a good word for Jesus. I am going to be intentional about everything I do from here on out! It is a matter of discipline, as Paul says. For you it may look different. The key is to get out of our comfort zones and get into the lives of not-yet-Christ-followers.

But wait—I don’t know how to “evangelize!” Let’s first get rid of that word—and replace it with “telling good news.” Evangelize is religious speech and jargon. You also need to understand you know more than you realize. First, all you have to do is listen, then when the door opens share what you think about Jesus. If discussion goes further than that—you can always tell others how you decided to follow this man named Jesus. That’s all you have to do. No manipulation, no sales tactics. If your friend decides this is for him or her—they’ll tell you!

Did you notice something? I didn’t say anything about changing our styles of assembly or anything like that. Those issues can be so superficial. What we must change is the heart.

Oh I don’t like change! But if I am going to be faithful to the mission God has given me—if you are going to be faithful to the mission God has given you—then change is essential. We must change our attitudes about the nature of church, change our comfort levels, and change our patterns of friendships—by developing more.

So may we embrace the change to which God calls us. May you embrace the mission you have been given. And starting here and now may you become witnesses to how Jesus has made a difference in your life beginning in Ennis, the Metroplex and North Texas, and to the ends of the earth.

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