Following Jesus on His Mission: Doing the Simple Things


Choluteca Bridge“So how’s Jesus been messing with you lately?” That question comes from a book titled Joining Jesus on His Mission  by Greg Finke and that book inspired this series.  As we begin, I invite you to take a look at this picture and see if you notice anything unusual. This is the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras. This bridge was a well-designed and fully functional bridge, but in 1998 Hurricane Mitch dumped 36 inches of rain on the area in just a few days and amidst all the other damage caused by the hurricane, the deluge of water carved a new channel for the river around the bridge and the bridge now spans dry ground. It is a perfectly designed bridge that doesn’t work anymore because the river moved.

Something similar has happened to the Christian Church in the past few decades. For centuries, up until the Sixties, the Church was perfectly designed for our culture. When a group of immigrants settled in a new area, one of the first things that they did was to build a church in the centre of the community. People valued going to church as a good thing. It made people into good citizens. Encouraging the Christian faith was seen as a valuable in our society at the time. There were benefits to going to church. You could build your network of social and business contacts and perhaps even meet your future spouse there. The church was perfectly designed to develop people in that environment into followers of Jesus.

But in the time since the Sixties, the river has moved, the culture has changed. Now, being part of a Christian Church is no longer seen as a desirable by our culture. Encouraging the Christian faith is no longer valued by our society. People do not need the church for social or business contacts or to find a spouse. We have websites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Plenty of Fish for all those things. A church that was perfectly designed to make disciples in the world of sixty years ago and older struggles to engage with the mission of Jesus Christ in the world of today because the river has moved.

Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby in his e-book A New Day: The Resilience and Restructuring of Religion in Canada, points out some of the indications that the river has moved. Weekly church attendance dropped from 60% in 1945 to 25% in 2005.[1] Mainline denominations (United, Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran and the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec) used to be 48% of the population in 1931. In 2009, they were 17% of the population.[2] In the past 15 years, the proportion of Canadians who attend worship monthly or more often has remained steady at about 30%, while another 30% attend worship services one or more times per year and about 40% never attend worship services. Bibby writes, “We awake today, not to a secularized Canada, but to a polarized Canada. A solid core of people continue to value faith; but a growing core do not. A significant proportion remain in the middle—something like the “politically undecided”—dropping in and not dropping out.”[3]

So what does this mean for those of us who want join with Jesus on his mission? It means that the old ways no longer work like they used to and we need to change how we do things. In the past, our main and perhaps only way that we used to invite people onto the journey with Jesus was by inviting them to church. But today most people in Canada are not looking for a church. What people are looking for is ministry and so how we serve others is very important. Inviting people to church is still important, but it cannot be the only tool in our neighbourhood missionary toolbox because it will not work with most of the people around us.

But here is the Good News. The mission does not depend on us because it is Jesus who is doing all the work. Jesus is the one who is messing in people’s lives and creating a desire in their hearts for something more. Jesus is the one who is opening people up to the possibility of trusting him. Jesus is the one who is ripening people towards faith. Jesus is the one who is changing hearts and minds.

And here is more good news. Most people in our culture may not be interested in “Church” but what they are longing for is right in the sweet spot of biblical Christianity. For example:

  • People take note when someone is willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of others.
  • People appreciate the opportunity to sort through their spiritual questions honestly without manipulation.
  • People are intrigued by someone who exhibits both grace and wisdom.
  • People are looking for those who exhibit authentic love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and self-control.
  • They cheer redemptive action.
  • They wish to discover what is true.
  • They long for authentic community with people that they can trust.
  • They are wondering if an encounter with a loving God is possible.[4]

Jesus has already done the hard work of living a perfect human life, dying on the cross and rising from the dead to reconcile all of creation to God. Jesus is the one doing the supernatural work of drawing people close to him and planting faith in their hearts. As Greg Finke puts it, “

  • “Jesus does the incredibly complex work that requires the Son of God;
  • We do the incredibly simple work that requires a little child. …

In order to join Jesus on his redemptive mission all we really have to do is:

  • Enjoy people;
  • And seek, recognize and respond to what Jesus is already doing in the lives of the people we are enjoying.” [5]

So what does this look like? Here is an example that Greg Finke shares in his book Joining Jesus in His Mission,

Some of our neighbors down the block put out a last-minute invitation to join them in their driveway. They were frying up some gulf shrimp and wanted us to help them eat it. Being a dedicated neighborhood missionary, I was in.

My wife and I grabbed a bottle of wine and joined our neighbours in this impromptu gathering. We enjoyed hot fried shrimp and a chilled glass of white wine. It was fantastic! As we were standing there enjoying our friends…I started a conversation with Jim…. It started out with the usual ,”Hey, how’ve you been doing?” However, within a few moments Jim wanted us to head off to the side to talk a little more privately.

In my mind I started asking, “Jesus, what are you up to here?”

Jim wanted to talk about his job. Ever since the sale of the company about a year ago things had been getting rough at work… real rough. As he is telling me about the stress he is under and how this has been getting systematically worse in the last several weeks, it wasn’t that tricky for me to recognize where some hope and redemption was needed in my friend’s life. And wherever hope and redemption are needed, you can be sure of this: Jesus is present and working nearby. In other words, the kingdom of God is near.

So Jim is standing there giving me a pretty good idea of where Jesus is working in his life. Now, the question is, “How can I join Jesus in what he is doing here?” It wasn’t that complicated to find out. I just kept asking the next question. “So who do you know that can help you with getting a new job?” I asked. “It’s not that simple,” he replied. “I can’t afford to start over again on the bottom rung of the pay scale.”

“So what will you do?” I asked. “I don’t know, Greg. I’m at a loss.” His voice was reflecting his growing anxiety. “Have you invited God into it?” I asked.

Silence.

“No. No, I haven’t,” he replied. “Do you think it would help?”

“You mean, getting God involved? Yeah,” I said with a smile, “I think that would help.”

Then his kid fell over on a toy and scraped his elbow. So that’s where the conversation ended. About 30 minutes later as I was enjoying yet another shrimp, his wife came up to me and said, “I don’t know what you said to my husband, but he seems happier than I have seen him in a long time.”

“It might be these really good shrimp,” I said. “No, it wasn’t the shrimp,” she assured me. “And thank you.”

But I hadn’t really done anything. It was Jesus who was up to something with Jim. I had just been looking for what Jesus might choose to show me. Jesus did all the complex work. It was Jesus who worked out the precise timing of Jim and me standing together at an impromptu party eating really good shrimp. And it was only Jesus who could redeem trouble at the job to do something deeper in Jim’s life. Jesus was messing with Jim redemptively, calling Jim back to himself. All I did was point out he obvious. I couldn’t make Jim turn to Jesus. But when Jim was ready to turn to Jesus, he found the peace and hope that Jesus had been offering him all along. I was just there to help.

Simple for me. Complex for Jesus. But Jesus handles complexity very, very well.

So to summarize, in order to join Jesus on his redemptive mission that night all I had to do was

  • Enjoy people by eating really good shrimp with them and hanging out;

  • Seek what Jesus was doing;

  • Recognize what Jesus was already doing in Jim’s life by listening to his story and realizing he was struggling with his job;

  • And then respond to what Jesus was already doing in Jim’s life by asking a couple questions and pointing out a simple spiritual truth.[6]

Jesus does the really complex hard things. And he invites us to join in his mission by doing the easy, simple things. And even though our culture has changed and many people no longer recognize it to be true, the mission of Jesus to make disciples of all nations is still very, very important. Because Jesus is the only One who can satisfy the cravings of the human heart for meaning, purpose, significance and destiny. Only Jesus can heal all of creation. Only Jesus can overturn very injustice. Only Jesus can fulfill the longings of our culture.

The risen Jesus has promised to always be with us. He made that promise to us in the washing of rebirth and renewal called Holy Baptism, just like he did earlier with little Charlie. In the meal of Holy Communion, Jesus gives us his Body and Blood for the forgiveness of all our sins. Nourished and forgiven, we then go out into the world to share his love with others. The river may have moved. But Jesus didn’t. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is still at work in the world and he invites us to join him in his mission. It is complex for him but he makes it simple for us.

In closing, invite you to pray the following prayer each day. It is the prayer of Sir Francis Drake and this prayer is really really an invitation for Jesus to keep on messing in our lives.

“Disturb us, Lord, when we are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst for the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.”[7] Amen.

 

(This message was shared on November 16, 2014 at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC.)

[1] Reginald Bibby, A New Day: The Resilience and Restructuring of Religion in Canada (Lethbridge: Project Canada Books, 2012), 5.

[2]Bibby, 34.

[3] Bibby, 10.

[4] Greg Finke, Joining Jesus on His Mission: How to Be an Everyday Missionary (Tyler TX: Tenth Power Publishing, 2014), 42-43.

[5] Finke, 54.

[6] Finke, 69-71.

[7] Finke, 51.

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About James Paulgaard

Living in the in between, becoming, but not quite there yet, old and new mixed together, hanging on with all my might to the One who is holding onto me.
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