“In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” 1 Peter 3:15
To be provocative means to provoke a response. Christians are to be provocative. Not in the sense that we provoke people to ridicule or avoid us, they will do that with the Gospel. What should be provocative about a Christian is that we approach life differently. People should see a hope in us that they do not understand. They should see love and forgiveness and contentment and peace and humility and so much more that they can’t explain. And it should be evident in such a way as to compel them to want to know where we got it and how.
To live provocatively as a follower of Jesus means that people will ask you to tell them why you are different. They will want to know how they can have this hope and peace and contentment. When is the last time, if ever, someone walked up to you and said, what do I need to do to have that kind of peace in my life, or joy, or love for others. When was the last time if ever, someone asked you, what must I do to be saved? If you are really living a provocative life as a Christ follower you should be able to answer that. Because people would want to know.
If you have never been asked, then maybe the provocative life of a Christ follower is not what you are living. If so then the first step is one of committment. It takes a committment of your entire being to tell the Lord that you want to live in such a way that others will want to know. It takes a committment to get to the root of following Jesus. But be sure that is what you really want. The word root, is based in the word for radical. It is were we get the word, radish, which is just a root. Getting to the root of being a provocative Christian will mean some radical changes in your life. Are you ready?
Ali Eastburn was a self described “material girl”. She liked her stuff. Near the top of the list of that stuff was her diamond wedding ring. Through an incredible prodding from God she came to realize that her ring was an idol. She also came to realize that most of the diamonds in the world are mined by people in Africa who live on the edge of poverty and face untold dangers. If you have seen or heard about the movie Blood Diamond then you understand. In addition to that she learned that the lack of clean drinking water is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in Africa, every day. All it would take to save those lives is for someone to drill a well. The water is there. It is just buried in the earth.
All of that came together in Ali’s mind when God showed her that “right now you have enough wealth on your finger to provide safe, clean drinking water for an African village”. And so under the compulsion of the Holy Spirit, Ali eventually sold her diamond along with another donated by a friend. That first step provided the money to drill a well and save a village. But it did not stop there. She began to tell others about this opportunity to serve and so was birthed a ministry called “With This Ring”. You can go to the link on this site to check it out.
I heard Ali talk about this ministry at the House2House National Convention. What was truly stunning was the number of women who came up to her after she spoke and took wedding rings off their fingers and handed them to her, right there! One woman had been a widow for five years yet still wore the ring her husband gave her. She decided it was time to give the ring to the cause of Christ.
The ministry is not first and foremost about drilling wells. That is simply the blessed result of the purpose of the ministry. What this is really about is helping people come to grips with their love of “stuff”. It is about selling what you have and giving it to the poor. It is about turning away from your idols and worshiping God alone. The change in the hearts of people is what this ministry is all about. If you are able to give away your diamond wedding ring and replace it with a ten dollar band from Target, like Ali did, then God is doing something huge in your life.
What is so cool is that God, in His economy, takes that event designed to change our hearts and uses it again to change the lives of others. In this case it is for poor people all over Africa. They are served. Many of those who are served do not know Jesus. Some of the villages are 100 percent Muslim and when they realize that a Christian has sacrificed for them, their hearts soften. And they ask why? That is what I call provocative. Christians living out the Gospel in radical ways that provokes a question, “what is the reason for this hope within you”. It provokes people to ask, “Why did you do this radical thing?” For Ali, she did the radical thing of selling her wedding ring because God said that He wanted to be first in her life. What about you? What is the radical thing that God wants you to do that will provoke a response that leads to Jesus?
I am used to being different from people whom I connect with. In college I was the lone protestant getting a degree in Theology from a Roman Catholic/Charismatic university. I was one of two non-episcopalians getting a Masters degree from an Episcopal seminary. So being possibly the only mega-church staff member at a national conference for house churches does not freak me out in the least. I am comfortable enough in my own skin and calling to know that God uses the differences to make a more perfect whole. That is evident at this conference in ways I never expected.
This morning I heard Frank Viola speak to this group of house church folks and urge them to not treat the institutional church as the enemy and remember that many people, Frank among them, have come to Jesus through such churches. I also heard a call to make sure that they do not become the elitist, exclusionary kind of movement that often morphs out of movements that were once pure. Words like that give me great hope that the day will come when we will see churches of all sizes, types and shapes working together for the sake of the Kingdom and the glory of God.
Movements start out wanting to reform something. In the early stages that often means identifying the problem that you are speaking against. But very quickly the emphasis must be on what the movement is FOR, not just what it is AGAINST. Being always against something leads to death and decay and the fossilization of the movement. The house church and the mega-church can work together if the focus is on how together we can glorify God and bring more people to Him. It can do this if we remember that the people who are in a structure different from ours, are still people of God and fellow laborers in the vineyard.
It reminds me of the time when the disciples were upset with the fact that people who were not in their group, where never the less, casting out demons in Jesus name. Jesus made it clear that they too were about Kingdom business and the people around Jesus should not take offense at what those other were doing.
Here in Florida, summer is officially over. Most kids are back in school and family vacations for 2008 are behind us. That makes it the perfect time in my mind to start planning for 2009. Why? Lets look at what you did for that vacation a few weeks or months ago. Ten years from now what difference will it have made? Sure it was nice to get away, go to the beach or mountains or on the cruise. You had some fun along with some family stress and probably came back needing a vacation to rest from your vacation. Sort of self defeating if you ask me.
What would happen if next year you used your two weeks of vacation to instead go on a short term mission trip? Sound like work? Well in many ways it is but so was the vacation you just had. What you need is a change of scenery from your regular nine to five, something that energizes and invigorates you. What will do that better, laying on a beach for one more day getting burnt, or being Christ-like and coaching soccer for a bunch of AIDS orphans in Africa, or rebuilding a home in the 9th Ward of New Orleans for an 80 year old widow? If you said the beach, then you better check for a pulse because your heart has turned to stone.
If you want to live a provocative life for Jesus then you need to do the unusual. You need to do the uncomfortable. Last summer a good friend of mine took his wife, teenage daughter and ten year old son to work in an orphanage in Kiev, Ukraine for two weeks. They were up before dawn every day, ate far less food than they wold have at home, worked like crazy for 12 hours a day and guess what. They came home as fired up and refreshed as they had ever been. And in the process they helped change the lives of a couple hundred children. That is provocative. It provokes questions. Why did you do that? What was it like? Does it really make a difference? And that leads to answers that are all about Jesus.
Don’t submit to the norm next summer. Don’t just go with the flow of American vacations. Start asking God now how He wants to have you do something radical next summer and bring glory to Him in a way that a cruise ship never could
“Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you have against each other. Forgive as the Lord forgives you” Colossians 3:13
As Christians we are usually very in tune to having been forgiven by Christ, at least when we first come to faith in Him. What is much more difficult is forgiving people as we have been forgiven. We pray it every time we repeat the words Jesus gave us, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”. Yet how often do you blow right passed those words without really asking, “Have I forgiven others in the same way that I want Jesus to forgive me”. Paul urges us to forgive whatever grievance, no matter what. After all, isn’t that the manner of forgiveness that we have received from Jesus?
Forgiveness is costly and painful. You don’t need to spend much time looking at the cross to know the price that was paid, the pain that was experienced for us to be forgiven. Jesus paid that price. He calls on us as His followers to be just like Him and be willing to face the pain for forgiving others. For us that pain is in a very real way, dying to ourselves. What we want in the flesh is to make the other person pay. We want them to somehow pay for they way they have hurt us. We want to somehow even the score. What would we face if Jesus approached us that way? We would be completely without hope. Forgiveness in the way of Jesus means that we take the pain. We die to our fleshly desire to revenge or vindication. We swallow our pride and carry our cross. How different would the world be if we forgave as we have been forgiven?
By Florida standards, hurricane/tropical storm Fay looks to be a minor blip on the radar of meteorological history. Some wind, lots of rain, even more hype. Yet as I watch the dark clouds of outer bands sweep across the sky and watch comfortably from Barnies Coffee & Tea Company as trees bend in the parking lot, I can’t help but think of Job 38 when the Lord answered Job out of the storm and pretty much put him straight as to who was in charge of the universe. Then of course there is Jesus showing His power over creation when with just a word, He made the storm and waves stop on the Sea of Galilee.
For all it’s periodic terror and destruction, the weather is still under the control of our sovereign God. The power of the wind and rain and waves is nothing compared to the God who holds the entire creation in the span of His hand. He is Lord over all creation to the extent that creation itself is groaning in anticipation o f the return of Christ when even the rocks will break forth in praise to our king. So in the midst of the incessant weather updates, the rush for groceries and flashlight batteries, and the uncertainty of what the storm brings, there is an amazing sense of awe and wonder the compared to our God, the power of the storm points to the glory and power of our Redeemer and King.
Bruce is Jewish by birth and a follower of Jesus by the grace of God. Sort of what many of my southern friends say about being born in America and south of the Mason/Dixon line. Several years ago Bruce and I where talking about communion, the celebration of the past supper that Jesus had with the disciples. Bruce reminded me that what they shared was not just the passing of a plastic shot glass with some juice in it and a little nibble of some wheat substance. Rather it was a full out meal, lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, wine and more. It got us talking about what is missing in many celebrations of communion today. What struck me was the thought that most often what is missing is an appreciation of what it means that Jesus is present at that table.
There have been endless debates about what Jesus meant when he said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood”. Between debating if the elements actually change into his body and blood, or if the molecules of bread and flesh are commingled, or if it is somehow just symbolic, we have missed what I think is the main point. Somehow, Jesus makes himself more know to us through this supper than he does at other times. It has always struck me as a fascinating thing that the disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize that it was Jesus they were speaking with, until He broke bread with them. I have coupled that fascination with Jesus saying that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there in the midst. Does that mean that when you are all alone that Jesus is NOT there? Of course not. He promised to always be with us and through the indwelling Holy Spirit He is. Yet when we gather with other Christ followers there is someway in which the presence of Jesus is more readily known and experienced. It is in community with others that we see more of Jesus. I don’t think that it is coincidental that we call gathering at the Lord’s Table, Communion. We should be having a powerful experience of community with Christ as we gather with the rest of the Body, to celebrate the sacrifice of His body for us.
Somehow we need to recapture the mystery of this relationship. Maybe recapture is the wrong word, For if we captured it, that implies that we understand it. And usually when we understand something we try and control it. Maybe that was the problem to begin with. We have tried to quantify and analyze how Jesus is present in communion. In the process we have missed Him, have not recognized Him. He is there at the table with us. He is there in the other followers who are gathered with us. He is there, somehow in a way that can not be explained, because the bread and wine are there. He is there because He promised to be there. I suspect that an even greater part of the mystery is not so much that He is here during communion, but that somehow, when we celebrate at the Lord’s Table, it takes us to a heavenly realm that is only experienced by faith. In that way it may be much like Lewis’ land of Narnia that is always there, just outside our senses, a place of Jesus presence that we go to by faith.
Thoreau said that “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”. I have to believe that if he is right it is because the mass of men, and women, are plodding through life without a sense of why they are here and what they are doing. Inside we want to be significant. We want our lives to matter. We want to count for something. I think that yearning lingers within us because God made us for a wonderfully significant purpose. Tragically we abandoned that purpose when we rejected Him in the Garden of Eden. That purpose, or mission if you like, was and continues to be, to glorify God in all we do. In the garden we were given charge over all creation, to care for it and tend it for the Creator. We were given the privilege of tending the garden as a gift to God.
When we rejected that purpose we lost the one thing that would make us feel like we mattered, like we had a reason to be that was significant. But we did not loose the need to matter or be significant. So now people trudge through life wanting desperately for their life to matter but know knowing how to make it so. The Apostle Paul points us in the right direction in Colossians 3:17 when he says, “In whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ”. We were designed by the Father to live for His glory. Paul tells us that we can live for God’s glory by doing everything in the name of Jesus. We find our greatest sense of purpose when we live completely for Jesus. In all we do, thought, word, and deed, let it be done in such a way that it points people to our wonderful savior.
That is our ultimate mission, to live each moment for Jesus glory. It is only by living for Jesus in every moment that we can even come close to fulfilling the reason we have been created. We are here for God’s glory. The irony is that we seek meaning and purpose in our lives by having people look to us and think that we are the important and matter. Yet when we try to live for our own glory we sense that something is still missing. No matter how much acclaim we receive most people have a nagging feeling that it is not enough. Some try for even more personal glory and never figure out that it is a chasing after our own tail. Others eventually figure out the upside down nature of God’s economy that we get filled up only when we empty ourselves for His glory. It is the same thing that we read in Philippians 2 that after Jesus emptied Himself and became a servant, even to death, the Father highly exalted Him and raised Him up so that eventually every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
If you want to be significant. If you want to have your life matter. Then make it your mission in life to do all you do as a servant for Jesus. Empty yourself so that God can fill you up.