Michael Choi’s comment on my last post reminded me that like many people, I just did not think about the causes of poverty, or the forces that were actually keeping people poor in the developing world. And yet:
My family sponsors a number of children through Compassion Australia. This wonderful program creates connections between supporters like us and the kids we sponsor. Right now, there are a few letters on our kitchen bench we can respond to. But here’s the thing: I had never seriously pondered the situation of the communities these children live in (Haiti and India), or that predatory coercive violence could be so pervasive in communities like these. I just didn’t think about it
I just didn’t think about it …
Our church family, the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia, have special appeals for humanitarian aid. I had never considered that in several of these countries there are factors at work, evil things really, that are responsible for perpetuating poverty and oppression. What our church and others do is wonderful work, and I am not suggesting anything other. But what will all our aid and good will do if we do not address the plague that lies at the heart of many of these communities? Seriously, I had never considered that question. But hardly a day goes by now when it does settle uncomfortably somewhere in my consciousness
On my office desk, I have the smiling photograph of a young woman who was conned with the promise of a better life. The train she was placed on went to a different city than the one she thought she was travelling to. When she arrived, her traffickers snatched her away and threw her into a brothel. She is smiling now because IJM rescued her and then prosecuted those who so violently abused her. Even here, I knew the story, but I was not aware how pervasive violent acts like these were. I thought it was a near one off case. I was a universe away from reality. Fact: There are millions of young girls and women in similar situations every day all over the world. In the video below there is a story of yet another young girl: watch and consider the fear that must weigh on developing world communities.
In the 1870s a huge plague of locusts descended upon the American Midwest. Back then, the midwest was just being opened up, and the people who first settled there were living very remotely. Their very survive depended n their capacity to develop working farms and grow good crops. This was the tender existence upon which the biggest locust plague ever recorded in modern times descended.
It is estimated there were over 27 million tons of them. I don’t know how anyone weighs a locust plague, but the destructive power of this plague is well documented. No matter how people tried to protect themselves, the locusts continued on their destructive march. There are even accounts of people trying to cover at least some of their crops with blankets, but the locusts even ate the blankets! The plague was unimaginably powerful and totally unstoppable!
In his book, The Locust Effect, Gary Haugen makes the point that when the locusts descended, you can be sure the farmers weren’t thinking about whether to buy a new horse, or how to plough more effectively, or where to place the next fence. All that mattered was for the locusts to stop. Back in 1875 the locusts did not stop. Not only did farmers and their families loose livelihoods they had worked so hard for, some lost their lives, simply starving to death from the plague’s aftermath.
Sometimes I wonder how we have been so slow to see what has really been happening
In The Locust Effect, we learn that there is a plague on the world’s poor. Like locusts, it just keeps happening, and it needs to stop. In many developing countries the poor are subject to daily violence. They live outside of police protection. Justice systems are broken or dysfunctional. Corrupt forces within society do what they can to ensure the system stays broken, and they stay beyond the reach of the law.
Violence comes in many forms: sexual violence (primarily against women); forced land seizures (also primarily with female victims); forced labour and slavery. It also comes with the gut wrenching realisation that the police forces who are supposed to protect and serve society are in many developing world contexts perpetrators of violence against the poor. Watch this clip to get a sense of it all.
Wealthier countries have turned a blind eye to this plague, and many people – like me – who live in those countries have been ignorant of these malicious forces that are destroying so many lives on a daily basis. While we see such great work being done in the developing world, this plague is undermining everything that is being done, and preventing the world poor from thriving. The disturbing reality is this: unless we address the plague of violence everything else we do is only gong to have limited value.
There are no words to describe this evil
I must say, I have only understood this sobering reality after having been on the pre release review team for The Locust Effect. Sometimes I wonder how we have been so slow to see what has really been happening. I read the stories of lives broken or snuffed out, and more often than not I am just stunned. There are no words to describe this evil.
Here are a few things you can do to see how deep the problem is:
You can visit The Locust Effect page to learn more about the modern plague of violence at. You can also read a gripping section of The Locust Effect here.
You can also buy a copy of Haugen’s ground breaking book. These next few days any US sales will result in a $20 donation going straight to International Justice Mission. So buying the book is a great way to help the poor, and not just become informed about the issue.
Watch Gary Haugen talk about his purpose in writing The Locust Effect
PS. before you ask, the authors of The Locust Effect receive no royalties for the book, which is currently sitting around no.30 on the Amazon Best Seller list. All proceeds form the sale go toward ending violence against the world’s most vulnerable people.
The audacious message of grace is Jesus has offensive undercurrents. Not that God is offensive, but more that we might find his grace offensive.Think about it: Paul reminds us that the message of the cross is a stumbling block and foolishness to many (1 Cor 1:23). That puts it mildly. It was so offensive to Jews in his day that several times they sought to kill Paul. Stephen was put to death because the Gospel tripped the religious leaders up (Acts 7). Other NT church leaders were also put to death. Jesus himself dies on a torturous cross.
Why does the message of Jesus provoke such strong reactions? Maybe it’s because God himself becomes the shepherd, and take on a position of weakness and powerlessness. It does not sit right with our human categories of power, authority and leadership. But that is what God does. Jesus, true God, made himself nothing (Phil 2:7). On the cross, Jesus takes into himself the sin, guilt and punishment of those who hate him. As he does, we observe a heinous transfer where Jesus becomes becomes our sin. And why? So that you and I might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).
The offence, then, is how Jesus – God’s perfect Son – had to become our sin in order to set us free. The other angle is this: we could not, can not, and never will be able to bring ourselves to God, and find his life, without Jesus. Jesus is our only hope, because all we have to offer, even our very best, is stained with the fall’s ugly pollution.
I am broken and humbled by this Jesus, who just keeps loving me, and others, and he does not stop. This love is the measure of my own. And God’s own commitment to rescue and redeem through his servant hearted, sacrificial act in Jesus, is the measure of my own commitment to mission.
Q: What does this audacious grace of Jesus say to your inability and failing? How does it make a difference to what lies before you today?
On Monday Feb 7 2011, at Redlands CRC we will start a new chapter in listening to and sharing God’s Word. Here’s what we’re doing:
Clinton and I will be starting a new preaching series Acts: An Outward Movement. We will be working our way through the book of Acts (Chapters 1-19). As we move through, we’ll examine how Jesus powerfully worked through his church in the New Testament, and how they engaged in His mission.
Each week, in the lead up to Sunday sermons, users will be able to journey through the book of Acts with some daily readings. We’ll be publishing these readings every day at RCRC Interactive. At this new blog, you’ll find the readings added every day, a few questions for each reading, and you’ll be able to interact with the questions and other users (via blog comments).
Then on Sundays, we’ll have sermons in the AM and PM that will unfold teaching from the book. If you’re part of RCRC, we would encourage attendance at both AM & PM services so you can follow the complete series. That’s not always going to be possible, we know, so all the sermons will be available for download from RCRC’s website. You can also grab the podcast through iTunes: just search for Redlands CRC.
In the week that follows the Sunday messages, we’ll be providing small group study guides for group work and personal study. You will also find these at RCRC Interactive, and yes, you’ll be able to put your thoughts onto the blog.
Our plan in all this is that we all deepen our understanding of God’s call into his mission. More than that: we want to be drawn into action and witness. Our prayer is that we’ll be better equipped to live His message, and that all glory and honour will be His.
What to do now: it would be great if you could visitRCRC Interactive, and let us know what you’re thinking and how you’re being challenged.
We’re particularly excited that potentially people all around the world can join us in this journey. What a wonderful expression of the unity of the Spirit and the church universal!
Please leave a comment and tell us what you think about all this!
In early December, Redlands CRC had the privilege of leading some community carols in Wellington Point. Normally, this means setting up in the village green, providing a few singers and a spoken message, with the music being provided by the Redlands Brass Band. Councillor Wendy Boglary does a great job pulling the community together, and 2009 saw about 300 people attend the open air event.
This year was different. The weather was closing in, and storms threatened to turn the event into a wash out. Some quick thinking from Cr Boglary and the proprietor of Hogan’s Hotel in Wellington Point switched the event to inside the actual pub. It was a great gesture from Hogans, but it posed a problem for Cr Boglary: what would the people from the church think about having Carols in a place like a pub?
…what would people think about having Carols in a place like a pub?
Cr Boglary’s message on my phone had a tentative tone, as she wondered how I would react. Truth is: I thought it was a great idea. The Hotel patrons would be an instant crowd, and being indoors, it would be easier to hold everyone’s attention, not to mention the fact that if anyone got thirsty…
In the end: the venue change was a gift from God. As I spoke to the crowd that evening, I reminded them that when Jesus was born, it happened in the stable of an inn. These circumstances tell us that God came to everyday people, and that he did not wait for them to get their act together, or to become holy. Jesus’ birth tells us that God came to reconcile us to himself through his son.
God, himself, is missional. He sends himself into his rebellious world, enters people’s lives, meets them as and where they are, to bring those people back to him. This is missional grace par excellence.
This is not only an emphasis we see in the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. Jesus’ ministry and mission shows him going out to those on the fringe. Tax collectors. Sinners. Prostitutes. Foreigners. Outcasts. He did not wait for them to come to him. He went to them. They did not have to go to some religious place to ‘become holy’, rather as Jesus’ rule invaded their lives they expressed the holiness of his Kingdom. They we changed as they came under his rule.
I think this demands a rethink of typical outreach strategies today. Many strategies revolve around bringing people into the church: from ‘out there’ to ‘in here’. While event driven attractional mission is the strategy of choice for many today, it was not the strategy of choice in the New Testament.
It was a delightfully incarnational move.
So the carols were held in Hogans Hotel. It was a delightfully incarnational move. We connected with people who would not have met us in the village green, and most certainly would not have (and did not) meet at our Christmas Day service. Even so, it was a great night, the Gospel was spoken, the crowd were attentive, and they all loved it. It was a kingdom win.
The challenge for us is to perpetuate this outward movement, this move into the world. We need to find ways to undertake God’s mission today in a way that takes the Gospel to people and bring the Kingdom of Jesus into their lives.
Q: how do you think churches can enter their world with the good news of Jesus? Where would you start? How are you doing this at present? Please leave a comment and tell us.
In my last post I mentioned some books which I find helpful in addressing some of the common questions people ask. Here are a few titles to consider (feel free to recommend some others you have read in the comment section)
I may not need to say it, but there are no perfect books out there. You may not agree with everything an author says. That’s OK. People don’t agree with everything you say, either, and we need to relax about that. As always, test all things, and hang on to the good.
The Case for Christ – Lee Strobel
Strobel recounts his own faith journey, and in so doing answers questions about the reliability of the New Testament, the historicity of the resurrection, and the person of Christ. Strobel’s background in law and journalism make this both a great resource and a well reasoned approach. It’s easy to read, and well priced to give away. Strobel writes as an ex-atheist, so you can be sure he knows where people are coming from.
The Case for Faith – Lee Strobel
In this book, Strobel builds on the foundation laid in his first work. He addresses some of the common the objections people may raise about believing in Jesus: the presence of evil and suffering; what about those who have never heard the good news? Or how do we explain the goodness of God in the face of the Bible’s teaching about Hell? Strobel opens up the issues of violence in church history. His section on the rarity and role of doubt in a believer’s life is especially helpful.
The Case for a Creator – Lee Strobel
Strobel addresses the perceived tension between science and faith, showing how many well respected scientists now see evidence of design in the universe and life systems. There is also a great DVD series which would be a great resource to work through in a small group setting.
Searching Issues – Nicky Gumbel
Nicky Gumbel is well known for the Alpha course. This book addresses the seven most common questions raised in Alpha course settings: suffering, other religions, sex before marriage, the New Age, homosexuality, science and Christianity, and the Trinity. There is also a helpful study guide for group work.
Simply Christian – NT Wright
A more inductive approach geared towards the thinking agnostic or atheist, while still very readable and accessible. Wright wants to get people thinking about what they see in their world and in the people who live in it. Staring with people’s longings, he looks at how the Bible presents God and the importance of Jesus, and finishes with what it means to be called followers of Jesus and to seek a world that God delights in. Reading this book brings memories of C S Lewis’ ‘Mere Christianity’. It’s a brilliant read!
Books like these can really help others to work through questions that trouble them. They will also help the reader become more effective as they share the message about Jesus.
it is God who changes the heart, and not the power of an argument
. So read the best resources, and pray for God to use you
Q: Which book and resources have you found most helpful for sharing the good news? Leave a comment…
Before we get to the best things to talk about to help people see who Jesus is, I’d like to explore the hesitation many feel about doing that.
It is no secret that many people find it hard to share the good news about Jesus. Here are some of the reasons I hear from time to time…
They imagine people are not interested. Generally speaking however, this is not true. People are quite tolerant, and open to talking about spiritual things. If you’ve already built a bit of a relationship with them, you’ll be able to talk about a lot of things, including your faith. It’s just not true that people don’t want to listen. What they don’t appreciate is an overbearing or judgmental attitude. Come to think of it, God doesn’t want that, either!
They think they need to know all the answers. It’s good to know some key responses to the common questions people ask. There are some great resources here: Understand, though, that most of the time you will not be able to explain everything. This is OK. Sometimes we just have to admit that we’re not really sure, and that we’re hoping to understand more sometime in the future. Here’s a few additional suggestions:
Ask them to explore the question with you: work on the answers together. This helps people see that you’re really not interested in cliched answers. It also helps them see that Christians are people who are prepared to apply their mind and their intellect to the troubling questions of life
Remember to take people back to the core issue of Jesus. If, for example, you are dealing with the question of why evil exists in a world governed by a good God, It’s fine to say something like ‘I have also wrestled with the question of the presence of evil in the world. I know Jesus came to break to domination of evil in people’s hearts. His promise is to bring it to right somehow, and sometimes that will involve us being prepared to engage in the fight against evil. But for me the big deal today is that I can trust God to do the right thing by me, and I can trust him to work the right things through me as I seek to follow him.’
A third reason people are hesitant to share about Jesus is because they are uncertain about the level of their own Bible knowledge. Having a good working bible knowledge is a great thing, but it will never be enough, really. There will always be things we don’t fully understand. So, just say so. People are more impressed with someone who says ‘I’m not sure’ than someone who has an answer for everything. People just want to engage at the level of the heart, at what matters to you, and why Jesus still matters to you. Sure, sometimes you will get to talk with a person who knows a bit about the Bible, and they may have some questions, but from my experience, these instances are pretty rare. Discussions that turn into arguments about Bible texts are rarely productive.
People are more impressed with someone who says ‘I’m not sure’ than someone who has an answer for everything.
Remember: you have the good news! You know who Jesus is! You have a hope that does not disappoint! That is an incredibly positive standpoint, and even though you think your life might be pretty ordinary, when you start talking about why Jesus makes a difference to you, most people will be interested enough to listen. More about this in my next post.
Q: what is your biggest fear or uncertainty about telling people the good news of Jesus? Or, what have you found helpful in addressing your hesitation?
Jesus says he has come to give life, and give life to the full. If Christians really do believe this (and they should!) you have to wonder why they are not better at passing on this tremendous news.
This hesitation seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon, at least when viewed alongside church history since the time of Jesus and the early church. Rodney Stark in The Rise of Christianity has shown that early Christians were responsible for the incredibly rapid and effective spread the message of Jesus. Cultures then were very different form cultures now, but the Gospel broke new cultural and social ground on a regular basis.
If it’s true that we live in a more open and tolerant society, why do Christians today struggle to share the good news?
Maybe we’ve become too reliant on programs and packaged approaches. If we need to know the program, the outline, or the diagram, but we don’t know it very well, no one will jump when the opportunity arises. We’ve seen evangelism experts hold huge rallies, and the televangelists on the screen. We compare ourselves to these people, and we always pull up short.
Have you considered that grassroots Christianity is a much more powerful vehicle for sharing the good news about Jesus? Not only that: it is more likely to meet with a positive reception.
Here’s why: the message of Jesus needs to be observed in the context of friendship, relationship, and the realities of life. When this happens, people see what it means to follow Jesus in the context of their families. They see people doing what they can to live a Jesus honouring life at work. People showing the relevance of Jesus in the context of education or academic pursuit. People talking about the difference Jesus makes as they chat over the back fence to their neighbour.
In these environments there is so little pretence. There’s very little capacity for ‘saying one thing’ and ‘doing another. Here it is all about authenticity. It’s the sort of glass house that allows people to see what life with Jesus is really like.
This will take Jesus and his transforming grace into homes, families, workplaces, schools and any number of other social contexts. As such, it represents a tremendous opportunity to reinvigorate western Christianity. Risky, I know, but what an incredible opportunity to revitalise how a watching world sees a loving God!
In the posts to come, I want to look a little more about how we can do this better.
Q: Have you ever thought of asking your neighbours over for a meal with the intention of being open about your faith in Jesus? What would needs to change for you to do this?
I am writing a new sermon series (with Clinton) on the Sermon on the Mount. My first message is coming Sunday (Feb 07), and it comprises the whole Beatitudes passage – Matthew 5:1-12. “Blessed are the poor in spirit…”
I was reflecting about how Jesus calls his followers, broken as they are, to respond to the brokenness around them. One of the thoughts I had was that only a broken church can respond with blessing to the broken world they are in. This is how we reveal the kingdom of heaven, and show what it is really like.
Then I wondered about how does a church of reasonably comfortable suburban Christians start to enter into the brokenness in their community?
I was thinking we could email local MPs and local government people and ask them for guidance in where the greatest areas of need are. Then an uncomfortable realisation lodged itself in my mind, ‘why do I even need to do that? Why don’t I already know about brokenness in my own community? Why do we find it so hard to know what the greatest areas of need are? Why do we find it hard to see this?’
I think it’s because we get involved in our own lives, busy in our work, busy loving our families. We feel wronged when we don’t have any time to relax with our friends. Our churches are great, but there are so many things to do, so many programs, so many areas of ministry and service, that it’s just too easy to lose touch with the world around us. So we lose our connection with real people and their brokenness. We striving to get ahead financially, we want to make ends meet, become financially independent. We buy into the view that financial independence, comfortable living, owning the latest and greatest, brand-names-on-the-outside wardrobe, are the things that really matter. And as it turns out, we end up being of the world, but no longer in it.
Has the lifestyle of western suburban Christianity become a the new monasticism? Where Jesus’ people withdraw into their own virtual enclave and remove themselves form the world and its suffering? Is this why we do not perceive the brokenness around us?