Archive for the ‘Mission’ Category

I think we Christians have largely misappropriated Matthew 5:16: ‘In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’
We use it as an excuse to promote ourselves and our works, seeking affirmation from the world. Both the ‘right’ and the ‘left’ are guilty – we can do it whether we are standing up for pure doctrine and the rights of unborn children; or the rights of refugees and queer folk and the need to deinstitutionalise the church. All of it can so easily become a waving of our own banner, desperately seeking for someone to say, ‘Hey, you’re a really good, authentic Christian, you know?’
I think Jesus is telling us here that it’s not about us, or even our good works. Light is an image of the Gospel message. That’s the way it’s consistently used throughout the Scriptures. When God makes himself known – as He has done clearly in Jesus Christ – it is a Light shining into the darkness of human sin and despair.
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
Isaiah 60:1-3
Notice here who Israel’s ‘Light’ is? The Lord, whose glory has risen, like the sun, upon them. What will attract the nations to Israel is not Israel themselves, but the fact that the Lord is among them. This is essentially the Gospel message:
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Mark 1:14-15
Both Light and Salt (Matthew 5:13) are primarily images of what God has done to redeem and restore His people. To be the ‘light of the world’ (and the ‘salt of the earth’) is essentially to be the heralds of this Good News.
So what has this to do with our good works? Notice that when we are letting our light shine, people will come to a particular conclusion about our works. And this is the point of what Jesus is saying – not so much that they will see our good works, but that their response will be to give glory to the Father.
You see, our works will always be seen, whether we like it or not. We know this all too well right now, as institutional churches in the West are being dragged through the mud of their own failure to protect women and children in their midst. In this case, the world is seeing our evil works, and the name of the Father is being profaned among them, just as in the days of the Exile:
I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them. But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land.’
Ezekiel 36:19-20
Yahweh had judged his own people by exposing their sin and shame to the world, sending them into exile, where people saw them and said, ‘What kind of god do you have? Yo must not think much of Him, if you are going to dishonour Him so much that you must be vomited out of the land He gave you!’ Sound familiar?
The solution to this, we think, is to work on restoring our reputation in the world. To start doing good works, and to point to them and say, ‘See, we’re not that bad after all. You should trust and like us again. Please. We don’t want our churches to get small and die. Please come back?’ But this will not work, on two counts.
Firstly, the horse has already well and truly bolted. Christendom is dead, and people are no longer interested in being part of the church simply as a social or cultural club – which, if we are honest, has always been a fair chunk of the church-going population in the West for the last 1000+ years. We can no longer expect the church to be an institution that is endorsed by the state and society. Thankfully, Christianity in the West is gradually reverting back to the grass-roots, countercultural movement it has always been.
Secondly, even if we end up doing a good job at our good works, and an even better job at marketing ourselves and our good works; even if many people in the world say to us, ‘OK church, we see that you’ve been trying harder, and we’re prepared to trust you again; you can come back into the clubhouse,’ then we will simply have a lot of people giving glory to us, not to our Father in Heaven.
Out task is not to hold out our good works; it is to hold out the light of the Gospel. This Gospel tells us that the Father is so full of mercy and grace that He even perseveres with and forgives the vile, hypocritical sinner who goes about profaning His name with their lives. This Gospel tells us that while judgement begins with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17, Amos 3:2), it is so that mercy might flow out to the nations. It tells us that Jesus Christ died not only for his friends, but also for his enemies.
This is a Gospel that can only be proclaimed faithfully when it’s proclaimed in humility, by people who know that they are great sinners, but Jesus is an even greater Saviour. When we are in this place, we should not even want to wave the flag of our own works, because we know that apart from grace even our righteousness is like filthy rags.
This light of the Gospel will not lead people to say, ‘You are good people, because you do good things.’ It will cause them to say, ‘Your Father is a good Father, because He does good things – and if He can do good things even through you weak, hypocritical, compromised Christians, then maybe his grace in Jesus Christ is big enough to do something good in me?’ The Gospel will make people see that the basis for knowing God is not our good works – because no matter how good we think our works are, they will always fall short – but that it is the grace of Jesus Christ that says, ‘I will remember their sins no more’ (Jeremiah 31:34).
For too long we have misappropriated Matthew 5:16, and made the Gospel out to be a moralising message of, ‘Don’t do that, or God will be angry with you; do this, and God will be happy with you – just like us good Christians.’ A true appropriation of Mathew 5:16 is to say with Paul:
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
1 Timothy 1:15
Advertisements

revelationI recently ran a workshop exploring worldviews. We began by discussing and defining our worldview as Christians, being careful do describe it in a way that is distinctly and uniquely Christian. Later, we explored the Islamic worldview, based on information gleaned from Muslim websites, chats with Muslims, and verses from the Quran that were quoted by Muslims to support their views.

Each worldview is broken down into eight key areas, based on James Sire’s worldview questions in his book ‘The Universe Next Door’.

Have a read.

You will see that, while there are some areas of connection between Christianity and Islam, in reality they are worlds apart. Any notion that they are essentially the same at heart is ignorant at best and deception at worst. Nevertheless, the few points of connection should be seen as open doors – opportunities to engage with our Muslim friends and neighbours to begin a conversation that can lead to speaking the Gospel.

A good way to start such conversations is to ask lots of questions – genuine questions. Actually be interested to know who they are, what they believe, and what they value. In other words, love them. This post is by no means an exhaustive summary of Muslim beliefs, and just as in Christendom, there will be a diversity of beliefs and emphases depending on the background of the Muslim person you are speaking to. So take the time to learn and appreciate and understand and respect, instead of going straight for the jugular. The Muslim worldview, way above many others, provides great opportunities for us to talk about things that really matter.


The Christian Worldview

What is the foundation of all reality?

God, who is Triune: One God eternally existing in in three persons, united in Love. God is personal, relational and very close to all people, and He wants people to be in relationship with Himself. Love is at the heart of His character, and all He does is in love.

Truth: Can it be known – and if so, how?

We can know the truth. It is a gift from God; revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, not dependant upon our ability or intelligence. The full, final revelation of the truth of God is found in Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life.

What is the nature of the world?

The physical world was created by God, and is under His authority. It was made good and with purpose, but is now flawed, being under the curse of sin; and it is awaiting renewal that will take place when Jesus returns. God values creation so much that He was willing to enter into it in the person of Jesus.

Anthropology: What is a human being?

We are made In God’s image: designed to be sons of God, to rule and care for creation, and to be part of God’s plan for the whole universe. Ultimately we exist for God’s glory. True humanity is exemplified in Jesus, however we are is sinful, needing salvation.

The human story: What’s the point?

God is overseeing and controlling human history, ensuring that it fulfils His purposes. All that God is doing in human history is with the aim that people will come to know Him. History will culminate in every nation acknowledging Jesus Christ as Lord.

Mortality: What happens after death?

Human beings die once, after which they will face judgement. At this judgement they will either be condemned or vindicated, depending on their relationship to Jesus Christ. After death all people will continue to exist forever, either in the loving presence of God or separated from His favour.

Morality: How do we know how we should live?

God reveals what is good and evil through His commands, which are recoded in ‘hard copy’ in the Bible. All humans have a conscience, which is flawed by sin, but for those in Christ the conscience is renewed through the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus shows us true and right human living.

Convictions: What personal, life-orienting core commitments flow from all this?

Knowing all this gives us the conviction to live in a right way, in the power of God’s grace, with a desire to honour and love God and love our neighbour. What drives us is the sure hope that we have in God’s promises about our future, and the call to proclaim the Gospel in the whole world. Jesus Christ is at the centre of everything, and our supreme goal is to glorify Him.


The Islamic Worldview

What is the foundation of all reality?

Allah, the Creator and sustainer of all. Allah cannot be associated or connected with anything human or created.  

1 Say, “He is Allah, the One. 2Allah, the Absolute. 3 He begets not, nor was He begotten 4And there is nothing comparable to Him.” (Al-Ikhlaas (Sura 112))

Truth: Can it be known – and if so, how?

Only by revelation from Allah. Ultimate truth is in the Quran, given through Mohammed.

51It is not for any human that Allah should speak to him, except by inspiration, or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger to reveal by His permission whatever He wills. He is All-High, All-Wise. 52 We thus inspired you spiritually, by Our command. You did not know what the Scripture is, nor what faith is, but We made it a light, with which We guide whomever We will of Our servants. You surely guide to a straight path. (ash-Shura (Sura 42))

What is the nature of the world?

Created by Allah. We cannot know the reason for creation, but must glorify Allah for it. There are seven ‘heavens’ (containing paradise) and seven ‘earths’ (containing hell). Above all is Allah’s throne.

189 To Allah belongs the sovereignty of the heavens and the earth. Allah has power over all things. 190 In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and day, are signs for people of understanding.191 Those who remember Allah while standing, and sitting, and on their sides; and they reflect upon the creation of the heavens and the earth: “Our Lord, You did not create this in vain, glory to You, so protect us from the punishment of the Fire.” (Ali ‘Imran (Sura 3))

Anthropology: What is a human being?

A creature made to worship Allah. Born morally neutral, life is a ‘probation.’

56 I did not create the jinn and the humans except to worship Me. 57 I need no livelihood from them, nor do I need them to feed Me. (adh-Dhariyat (Sura 51))

2 He who created death and life-to test you-as to which of you is better in conduct. He is the Almighty, the Forgiving. (al-Mulk (Sura 67))

The human story: What’s the point?

For all to come to a knowledge of and submission (salaam) to Allah, in an islamic society governed by sharia law. The course of history is determined by humanity, under Allah’s guidance. History will culminate in the day of judgement.

47Every community has a messenger. When their messenger has come, judgment will be passed between them with fairness, and they will not be wronged. 48And they say, “When will this promise be fulfilled, if you are truthful?” 49Say, “I have no power to harm or benefit myself, except as Allah wills. To every nation is an appointed time. Then, when their time arrives, they can neither postpone it by one hour, nor advance it. (Yunus (Sura 10))

Mortality: What happens after death?

Every human being will be judged based on their balance of good works and bad works.

26 Say, “God gives you life, then He makes you die; then He gathers you for the Day of Resurrection, about which there is no doubt. But most people do not know.”  27 To God belongs the kingship of the heavens and the earth. On the Day when the Hour takes place, on that Day the falsifiers will lose. 28 You will see every community on its knees; every community will be called to its Book: “Today you are being repaid for what you used to do. 29 This Book of Ours speaks about you in truth. We have been transcribing what you have been doing.” 30 As for those who believed and did righteous deeds, their Lord will admit them into His mercy. That is the clear triumph. (al-Jathiya (Sura 45))

Morality: How do we know how we should live?

God’s perfect law is revealed in the Quran, supplemented by the Hadith (recorded sayings and actions of Muhammed)

176 That is because Allah has revealed the Book in truth; and those who differ about the Book are in deep discord.177 Righteousness does not consist of turning your faces towards the East and the West. But righteous is he who believes in Allah, and the Last Day, and the angels, and the Scripture, and the prophets. Who gives money, though dear, to near relatives, and orphans, and the needy, and the homeless, and the beggars, and for the freeing of slaves; those who perform the prayers, and pay the obligatory charity, and fulfill their promise when they promise, and patiently persevere in the face of persecution, hardship, and in the time of conflict. These are the sincere; these are the pious. (al-Baqarah (Sura 2))

Convictions: What personal, life-orienting core commitments flow from all this?

  1. Belief in Allah as the one true God.
  2. Belief in angels as the instruments of God’s will.
  3. Belief in the four inspired books:  Torah, Psalms, Gospel, and Quran, of which the Quran is the final and most complete.
  4. Belief in the twenty-eight prophets of Allah, of whom Muhammad is the last.
  5. Belief in a final day of judgment.

The 5 pillars (Key moral obligations)

  1. Confession: There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.
  2. Prayer: 5 times/day, facing Mecca
  3. Ramadan
  4. Almsgiving
  5. Pilgrimage to Mecca
  6. (Jihad – holy war – literally, or against sin and weakness)
Some background:

The dominant themes of John’s Gospel up to this point have been the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah who fulfils all the promises of the Old Testament to bring in the New Era – the outpouring of the Spirit, the cleansing of sin and uncleanness, the renewal and establishment of the Kingdom of God, and the personal renewal that comes to a person who is brought in to be a part of this all. We have seen Him declared to be the Son of God (not figuratively but literally), the Baptiser in the Spirit, the Messiah, the One who replaces the old ritual washing water with the new wine, the one who replaces the Jerusalem Temple with himself, and the One prefigured by Moses in lifting up the serpent in the wilderness. He has just unpacked for a key Jewish leader what it means to be ‘born from above’ by God’s sovereign action in the work of the Holy Spirit, and now he comes to someone at the other end of the theology/holiness/worthiness/acceptability spectrum: a lonely, broken, shamed Samaritan woman.

4:1-9

Jesus broke a number of cultural conventions, doing what in the eyes of many – especially the Pharisees – would disqualify him from being a Rabbi, let alone the Messiah sent from God. Firstly, he travelled through Samaria. Samaria was the region historically occupied by the ten northern tribes of Israel who had been conquered by the Assyrians in 720BC. The Assyrian policy of relocation meant that many Israelites were scattered among the nations, while may foreigners were brought into Samaria, where they intermarried with the remaining Israelites, developing a syncretistic religion. When the exiles who had been taken by the Babylonians from the Southern kingdom of Judah returned, these locals wanted to participate in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple, but were not permitted. So they set up their own Temple in Samaria. This developed eventually into the rivalry, bigotry and hatred that existed between Jews and Samaritans right up to Jesus’ time. Many Jews, if they needed to travel North to Galilee, would cross the Jordan and travel up the East side of the river in order to avoid travelling through Samaria, even though this took them 4 days longer than cutting through Samaria.

Secondly, when the woman came to the well, he spoke to her, asking for a drink. This was controversial on four counts. First, as a Jew (and a Rabbi) he should not have spoken to to a Samaritan (at least in a friendly tone). Second, as a male he should not have spoken to a woman on her own. Third, he should not have been willing to drink from a Samaritan cup, which would have technically made him ’unclean,’ since Samaritans were considered by many to be the same or even worse than Gentiles. Fourth, while it’s not explicitly stated, the fact that this woman was at the well at midday, rather than the normal time of first thing in the morning when everyone else would have been there, may indicate that this woman was an outcast even among her own people, since she came alone at a time when no-one else would be there to ridicule or criticise her.

It is important to notice that John includes this story immediately after chapter three’s account of Nicodemus coming to Jesus. John said in is introduction to the Gospel:

11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:11-12)

In John 3 we see a man, Nicodemus, who would have been seen by everyone as ‘one of God’s own people’, yet who just didn’t understand or receive what Jesus was saying, responding to Jesus’ statements with naive, even ignorant questions. Then in John 4 we see this woman, by all accounts an ‘outsider’, who not only is receptive towards Jesus, but as we will see, engaging in robust theological discussion with him – showing up Israel’s esteemed teacher!

It’s also important to note that he initial reason Jesus stopped at this well was that he was tired and thirsty. Presumably when the disciples went into the town to get food, they had taken al the equipment with them, and so Jesus didn’t even have a cup to drink from. The Gospels to not present a ‘superman’ Jesus who floats six feed above the struggles and realities of life in this world. Jesus, the Son of God, is truly one of us, sharing in all that we experience, including tiredness and thirst.

4:10-14

The term ‘living water’ on its face value simply meant ‘spring’ or ‘running’ water – fresh water found in a flowing creek or river, as opposed to potentially muddy or stagnant water found in a well. Both Jews and Samaritans looked forward to the day when the creation was renewed by God’s blessing, and the entire region was watered by flowing rivers (eg. Zechariah 14:8, 44:3), but also that this physical renewal would be a symbol of a spiritual renewal when the Holy Spirit would ‘flow’ into and through God’s people.

Initially this woman takes his statement on the purely physical sense. Not only does Jesus not have the equipment to draw water from the well, but he is claiming to be better than than the one who dug the well – Jacob – by claiming to produce this fresh running water as opposed to stale well water.

Jesus, in his usual fashion, explains that he has come to replace the Old with something New. In the Old Testament Jeremiah says:

‘…“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.’ (Jeremiah 2:13)

Jesus’ claim in 13&14 is that he has come to reverse this scenario. The well by which they are standing is a picture of the people turning to find satisfaction in things that are only momentary; and in doing so are rebelling against God, who is the only source of true satisfaction. In Jesus, the door has been opened for people to turn from these broken wells back to the eternal spring of living water.

4:15-19

At this point the woman still wants to engage on a purely physical level, but Jesus pulls the rug out from under her feet. He ultimate need is not her physical predicament of having to come here day after day to get water; it is not the fact that she runs out of water in her house. Rather, her need is spiritual – the broken well is in her, not in her house, as evidenced by the life she is living. She is a ‘serial monogamist’. Five broken marriages, resulting in her being a broken person who no longer has the energy or motivation to even try to live by the standards of her community or God.

Jesus’ comment, and his intimate knowledge of her history is a ‘sign’ to her that he is not just a regular Jewish man, but is in fact a prophet. Her use of this word is significant. The Samaritans only had as their Bible the first five books of the Old Testament, whereas the Jews had all the historical, poetic and prophetic books. In Deuteronomy 18:15-22 God promises to raise up ‘another prophet’ like Moses who will teach the people perfectly from the Law. This idea is developed in the later books of the Old Testament into the idea of the Messiah who is not only a prophet, but also a King and a Priest. But because the Samaritans did not have or recognise these books, they spoke of their future hope in terms of a ‘Prophet’. Many Samaritans however acknowledged the Jewish expectation of the Messiah and that it was to be one and the same Person.

4:20-26

The woman no only discerns that Jesus is a prophet, and maybe The Prophet, but she also recognises the real issue that is at the heart of everything, even behind her current situation of living in an immoral relationship: the issue of worship. It’s no trivial thing that the first four of the Ten Commandments are about worship. The One whom we worship will determine the kind of life we live, as our life is a direct reflection of our worship. Both the Jew and the Samaritan knew that if the issue of worship was sorted (the first 4 commandments – Loving God) then the issue of right living will follow (the last 6 – loving one’s neighbour).

The sore point between Jews and Samaritans was not so much the method of worship as the place of worship, which is what she picks up on. Rather than picking a fight, I believe this is a genuine question from someone who has just come face to face with the Truth of God embodied in the person of Jesus – she is simply framing it in terms of the context that she understands.

Jesus’ answer is not only immensely liberating, but also would have blown any last shred of credibility he may have had with the Jewish leaders by saying something that in their eyes would have undermined the whole Temple system in Jerusalem (just in case he hadn’t done this already when he cleared the Temple in 2:13-22!). And he in essence gives the same answer to her that he gave to Nicodemus: It must be a work of the Spirit. Just as Nicodemus hd no hope of seeing or entering the Kingdom of God apart from the Holy Spirit’s work in his life, so too this woman has no hope of truly worshiping God apart from the Spirit enabling her. We cannot come to God by going to a holy place or entering a holy building in which we do holy rituals. In fact, we cannot come to God at all. True worship happens as God Himself comes to us. It is as the Holy Spirit comes to us and opens our blind eyes to see Jesus, unblocks our deaf ears to hear Him speak the truth, and applies the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection to us. When he says, ‘…they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.’ We see that the Father also comes to us before we come to Him – the word implies a active, yearning, seeking, not just a desire. It does not mean that people first get their act together with worship and then God will go and find them; rather God the Father is out and about in His world seeking broken, sinful people and turning them into those who truly worship and know Him. The way he dos this is through Jesus. Here we see the God the Son, who has taken on humanity in order to walk among us and, ‘to seek and save the lost’ (Luke 19:10), and this mission has taken him to a lonely well where he has found a lonely, broken, outcast Samaritan woman.

In chapter 1 (41, 45) we see people saying, ‘We have found the Messiah;’ ‘We have found the one Mose wrote about in the Law and about whom the prophets also wrote.’ Here we see this One finding this woman, declaring to her ‘I, the one speaking to you – I am he.’ (26)

If you are interested in any way in seeking God, know that it can only be because He is first seeking you; and if you know God through Jesus it is only because He has sought you and found you through his Son and by the work of His Spirit, and brought you into the truth of who He is.