Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Jesus lives; here’s a toaster.

This is an excerpt from Rob Bell's book called Velvet Elvis.   Some might criticize this quote as being being only about a social gospel and not about spreading the message of Jesus.  I disagree.  Jesus said: "for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'"  It was Jesus who emphasized that a Christian would love others through action and by those works the world would know that we are his.

"Imagine an average street in an average country. Let's imagine person X lives in a house on this street. Next door is a Hindu and on the other side is a Muslim. Across the street is an atheist, next door to them an agnostic, and next door on the other side, someone from Ohio.

Imagine person X becomes a Christian. Let's say she starts living out Jesus' teachings so that she can become a compelling force for good in the world. She is becoming more generous, more compassionate, more forgiving, more loving. Is she becoming a better or worse neighbor? If we are her neighbors, we're thrilled about her new faith. We find ourselves more and more grateful for a neighbor like this. We wish more people would be like this.

Let's make some observations about this street. The good news of Jesus is good news for Person X. It's good news for Person x's neighbors. It's good news for the whole street. It's good news for people who don't believe in Jesus. We have to be really clear about this. The good news for Person X is good news for the whole street. And if it's good news for the whole street, then it's good news for the world.

If the gospel isn't good news for everybody, then it isn't good news for anybody.

And this is because the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join. It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display. To do this, the church must stop thinking primarily in categories of in or out, saved or not, believer or nonbeliever. Besides the fact that these terms are offensive to those who are the "un" and "non", they work against Jesus' teachings about how we are to treat each other. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor, and our neighbor can be anybody.  We are all created in the image of God, and we are all sacred, valuable creations of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Everybody matters. To treat people differently based on who believes what is to fail to respect the image of God in everyone. As the book of James says, "God shows no favoritism" (James 2:1-13). So we don't either.

Oftentimes the Christian community has sent the message that we love people and build relationships in order to convert them to the Christian faith. So there is an agenda. And when there is an agenda, it isn't really love, is it? It's something else. We have to rediscover love, period. Love that loves because it is what Jesus teaches us to do. We have to surrender our agendas. Because some people aren't going to become Christians like us no matter how hard we push. They just aren't. And at some point we have to commit them to God, trusting that God loves them more than we ever could. I obviously love to talk to people about Jesus and my faith. I'll take every opportunity I can get. But I have learned that when I toss out my agenda and simply love as Jesus teaches me to, I often end up learning more about God than I could have imagined.

I am learning that the church is at its best when it is underground, subversive, and countercultural. It is the quiet, humble, stealth acts that change things. I was just talking to a woman named Michelle who decided to move into the roughest neighborhood in our city to try to help people get out of the cycle of poverty and despair. She was telling me about the kids she is tutoring and the families they come from and how great the needs are. Some other women in our church heard about Michelle and asked her for lists of what exactly the families in her neighborhood need. They then circulated the lists until the found people who could meet every one of the needs. It's like an underground mom-mafia network. Michelle told me at last count they had helped 430 families, and they are making plans to expand their network.

'Jesus lives; here's a toaster.'

These are the kinds of people who change the world. They improvise and adapt and innovate and explore new ways to get things done. They don't make a lot of noise and they don't draw a lot of attention to themselves."

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