Christ’s Authority to Confound and Perplex

As I write this week’s blog, I am very decidedly living outside of my normal routine. In fact, I am approximately 37,000 feet in the air, headed to a series of seminars and discussions on the topic of “Faith, Vocation and Culture,” hosted by Steven Garber of The Washington Institute. It’s been about eight months since I last laid eyes on Steven, when we first met as part of a D.Min. Cohort at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. In the interim, however, I was able to successfully pester him into a two-part interview for ESI back in August (“Seek the Flourishing of the University,” Part 1 and Part 2).

So as I wing my way eastward in a shiny metal tube filled with jet fuel and fellow image-bearers (Genesis 1:26), I can’t help but think that we live in very interesting times indeed. More often than I care to admit, I am struck by what a historically-poor job the Church of Christ has done – generally speaking – in contributing to the thriving of human beings who live their lives apart from Christianity, and/or responding articulately to the culture in which we live (Jeremiah 29:4-7). On the other hand, it cheers me up greatly to consider that at no point in human history have we ever had so many outlets for gospel truth, along with such a wide array of means with which to intersect with those we care about, whether down the hall or on the other side of the planet. The possibilities seem endless for spreading the word of Christ in ways I could scarcely have imagined just 20 years ago.

All this works together to create within me a deep sense of gratitude that I am part of a local church that actively seeks to engage our culture “where it lives.”

I haven’t always felt that way.

In fact, there was a time when I used all kinds of excuses to hold Christ at arm’s length, and many of those excuses had to do with the way I saw Christians evangelizing and reaching out to unbelievers. Because it didn’t reach me, because it offended many, I also scorned these efforts. And then, in July of 2001, I walked into the Rock Bridge High School auditorium and heard the Word of God faithfully preached.

Just like every other church under the sun, The Crossing is not meant to appeal to everyone. If, for example, you want to “come to Jesus” so that the Lord will bless you with health, wealth and prosperity, The Crossing is probably not the church for you. On the other hand, if you are genuinely interested in learning more about the Person and work of Jesus Christ as it took place within human history, and what the work of Christ 2,000 years ago could possibly have to do with your unique set of problems in the 21st century, then I would strongly suggest you lend the pastors your ear for three to four weeks, either in person or via podcast.

But it’s important to understand that my wife and I give of our time, talent and treasure to The Crossing with our eyes wide open, which is a nice way of saying that we see our church for what it truly is, namely an imperfect reflection of what life will be like when all of us – friend or enemy – are living under the Lordship of Christ’s eternal kingdom. Do church leaders make mistakes? Of course they do! They’re flawed human beings living in a fallen world, just like you and me. What caught my attention back in 2001 – and what is still true today – is that, by and large, we at The Crossing are mightily blessed with leadership that is quick to admit mistakes, confess foolishness, and repent of poor decision-making. That sort of humility goes a long way with me, particularly as we all seek to faithfully build God’s kingdom in today’s environment by engaging the culture in new ways.

Which brings me back to the reason that I am flying to D.C. to meet up with Steven, Donald Guthrie, and roughly a dozen other Covenant grad students. The assumed truth in all of our meetings, seminars and discussions is that everything – absolutely everything – exists under the all-powerful hand of a loving God, and that Christians are best matched to the task of spreading the faith when they allow themselves to break out of conventional ways of thinking and allow others to speak into time-honored traditions and customs. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that all things can be received with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4-5) and that we as faithful believers are called to honor our leaders (1 Peter 2:13-15) and suspend judgment (Matthew 7:1-5).

Reaching a new generation of believers with the Person of Christ will require that we be creative. Simultaneously, it will require us to graciously offer our leaders the freedom and grace they need to explore new avenues of reaching and redeeming the culture. Sure, there are bound to be bumps and hiccups along the way…that’s why grace is needed!

To put it succinctly, I am excited to be part of a church that is willing to experiment with music CDs (“Forever Home” and “The Shore“), multimedia presentations during Sunday services and on the Internet, participating in secular festivals (True/False), and so on. While some of these efforts may not speak directly to my own heart or do a thing to deepen my personal faith, I am more than willing to support these gospel-fueled efforts. How boring, indeed, it would be to contribute to the ongoing ministries of a church in which everything conformed perfectly to my own particular taste! It hasn’t always been true, but I am coming to trust that new endeavors with which I am not immediately comfortable are, in fact, reaching other people for Christ and advancing His kingdom purposes.

So here I am, approaching my landing, ready to be challenged once again to consider ministry efforts that don’t fit neatly into my personal mold, the box into which I have previously been content to confine my Lord and Savior. As Steven, Donald and others confront me with the work of faithful believers that lives outside of my own enshrined paradigm, I expect to come away from this week exceedingly grateful for a stern rebuke to my selfish tendency to restrict the work of Christ, the Lord of all creation, who is able to speak across time, artistic styles, languages, dreams, musical traditions, technologies, and anything else He cares to use to reach His people.

If there is anything of value in this, it’s only been in the last few years that I have been able to assign a label to my own tendency to be annoyed whenever something – you name it – runs counter to my expectations during a church service, in ministry efforts or my own discipleship. Whenever I become aware of that sensation, I instantly draw a mental picture of the disciples’ astonishment at finding Jesus conversing with a Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar (John 4). Within that one conversation Jesus stepped over multiple “sacred” boundaries drawn within the culture at that time – those of Jews speaking to Samaritans, men conversing with women, a rabbi speaking with a “loose woman,” to point out just the obvious ones; I can only imagine the rebukes and “corrections” that were floating through the disciples’ hearts and minds as Jesus tried “something new and different” as part of His ministry work.

And yet, through His reaching out to this one woman, many in her village became believers (John 4:39-41). Thank God that He regularly chooses to ignore our boundaries and confound our expectations. May He be pleased to continue that limitless work, outside of our box, and may we all embrace His plan for the redemption of mankind, even if it does not fit neatly into the box that we have created for ourselves.

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

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