seeking the cultural compass pointing to Jesus

Don Richardson is a Canadian pastor and missiologist perhaps best known for the work the Peace Child and his book Eternity in their Hearts.  In this talk last October in Hawaii in talks about cross-cultural communication of the Gospel of Jesus and Richardson highlights the importance of listening to discover the cultural compass pointing to Jesus providentially woven into the fabric of  a culture.

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when everything is not enough

A wealthy, influential man came to see Jesus to ask  about the good life, eternal life (Luke 18:18-30).  He asks,  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He likely had everything his context could offer him: wealth, a good reputation, a growing family, comfort, influence, respect, and servants.  When confronted with God’s commands–do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother–this big-name-family-business-man, revealed his desire for a principled and ordered life.  “All these I have kept since I was a child.”  And yet, even though he was living out their local vision of being good, even though he was living the “good life” that others coveted, this man could not escape the dis-ease in his heart, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

If you have ever noticed that you get no lasting satisfaction from the stuff of this world, you may understand the darkness and emptiness that was in this man’s heart.  He had it all, but was not satisfied.  Perhaps, he was uncomfortable with the temporary nature of all that he was investing his life in and began to contemplate what was really out there in the future and what could really fill his heart, and if there was a really meaningful life to be had.

Please don’t miss the profound nature of the spiritual life contained in the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  A big-name-family-business-man in Jesus’ day would understand the two realities  required to be the beneficiary of an inheritance.  It requires that you are born into a family of some means and second, that somebody dies.  The Christian view of the good life believes that Jesus makes both of these requirements possible.

When a person receives Jesus as the central commanding and provisionary figure of life, s/he is born into or adopted into the family of God.  Therefore the person now is part of a household of faith that shares the rich provisions, blessings, influence of our Heavenly Father.  You become a child of God with the full rights and privileges  of His household not via creation but through spiritual rebirth.  (See the related verses below.)

And in regards to the second requirement of an inheritance–someone must die, the Christian view of reality holds that Jesus’ death was meaningful for the execution of God’s will for the benefit of all who would receive Him.  Jesus was going to die for this man on the Cross.  Jesus’ death was full of meaning.  His death secured an inheritance of forgiveness of sin, fellowship with God, and the gift of the Holy Spirit so that His followers might enjoy the grace of God by faith in Him.  (See the related verses below.)

I relate to this man, not because I actual enjoy the status he had, but because I know that the attraction of money, wealth, power, and reputation seem to have death grip on us, even though our devotion to them is so futile.  We all seem to want our own kingdoms of comfort.   Jesus asked this man to exchange his devotion to wealth and himself for devotion to Jesus and service to others in Jesus’ kingdom.  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus told him, “You still lack one thing.  Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”  Give up your rights to it, give it away, and follow me.

Even though his heart was dissatisfied with all this world could offer him, the cost for satisfaction seemed too high and the man went away very sad, “because he was a man of great wealth.”  He could not yet see that Jesus far outweighed the value of everything he had.  For on the other side of the transaction Jesus called for, this man could have enjoyed life as a child of the King:  valuable relationships, meaningful living, and eternal life.  Jesus saw into this man and sympathized with the struggle and tells him, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!  Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

I hope the man reconsidered the offer.  Jesus secured an inheritance for this man.  Jesus did die to fulfill the will of the Heavenly Father.  Jesus does have a family into which we can be born by His Spirit.  Jesus’ resurrection from the dead seals the deal and marks His triumph over death and over the emptiness of living for what the world offers without God.   Whatever you are holding onto as “the thing” that will make your life full and meaningful, I urge you to loosen your fatal attraction and  grip on the stuff of this world and to embrace Jesus Christ as your Lord–your Provider, Saviour, Redeemer, and your very Life.  Through Jesus, God will cleanse you of every shameful and empty thing, and will gracefully fill your life with joy, assurance, meaning, and new confidence as His child.  He will give you a new way of living with the stuff and people of this world, so that by His Spirit you may overcome its never-ceasing competition for the allegiance of your heart.  When everything is not enough, Jesus is enough.

Jesus fulfills the requirements required so we can inherit eternal life.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shield by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kids of trials.  These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an  inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  1 Peter 1:3-9

“I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again….the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that he gave his only and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:3, 14-16

“…giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.  For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”  Colossians 1:11-14

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.  Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviou.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemishand free from accusation…”  Colossians 1:19-22

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes:  first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that it is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.'”  Romans 1:16-17

a case study on humility and persuasion

Are you nervous when people in suits knock on your door?  Ha, I am too.  And there you know that I understand emotionally one of the objections to Christian faith that I encounter:  the missionary zeal of those who follow Jesus.  The accusation is that it is deeply arrogant to believe that every one needs faith in Jesus Christ in order to know God and enjoy Him.  While I believe that is possible and necessary for us to examine our “beliefs” as exclusive claims to understanding reality, I do not believe that the attitude of those holding to exclusive faith statements, whether christian, religious, or of material and “secular” nature means that one must be arrogant.  Some who believe are arrogant and some who believe are not arrogant.  Arrogance is that quality of heart that pervades both word and body to communicate that I am better than you, for you have failed, and I have not; I am worthy of love and you are not.  Conviction of heart and the desire to persuade is often confused as arrogance in our setting. 

I believe liberty is the common grace of God to all people in a society whereby a collective value on freedom of conscience within that setting requires the energetic debate of ideas but the utmost respect of the dignity of persons–even and perhaps most desperately–when they disagree.

A fascinating case study on humility and persuasion is contained in the apostle Paul’s writing in Romans 9-11.  It should be observed that this former Jewish persecutor of the followers of The Way, as the earliest followers of Jesus were known, was a flaming evangelist.  He wanted to convince others even at the cost of his life that Jesus was the messiah, the Christ, the destined judge of all humanity.  Notice Paul’s zeal and passion for persuading his “tribe,” the Jews, to trust Jesus as their Saviour:

“I speak the truth in Christ–I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit–I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my own race, the people of Israel.”  Romans 9:1-4

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.  For I can tastify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based in knowledge.  Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.  Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”  Romans 10:1-4

“I am talking to you Gentiles.  Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.”  Romans 11:13-14.

Paul argued that the inclusive claim that Jesus was the only saviour for all humanity–both Jews and Gentiles– could not be accompanied by arrogance.  He says “Do not boast over these branches;” the branches of many in Israel who have been broken off.  In looking back over the discourse from Romans 9 to 11 Paul gives  seven reasons that could be said to that rule out arrogance and argue for humility.

1.  The benefits of knowing the messiah are rightly Israel’s.  Romans 9:1-5.

2.  Knowing God and living in fellowship with Him, depends not on the efforts of humans, but on the mercy of God.  Romans 9:14-18.

3.  Righteousness–or being in right relationship with God–comes about not by works, but by faith in Christ.  Romans 9:30-Romans 10:4.

4.  Our faith in Jesus–which came from hearing the Word of God–was dependent on the obedience of someone else to the call of God.  Romans 10:5-15

5.  The Gentiles who believe have been graciously grafted into the  covenant relationship with God.  Romans 10:11-24.

6.  The Gentiles who believe and enjoy the covenantal relationship with God will be a source of envy stirring up saving faith among the Jews.  Romans 11:25-32

7.  The Merciful God is greater and wiser and more inclusive than I am.  Romans 11:33-36

So, when I step into the realm of persuader I must also check into the realm of humility.  I do not argue for Christ in fear that I need you to believe in order to justify my belief; that’s the stance of a fundamentalist.  Rather I argue for faith in Christ out of the generative and humble stance of one who has been blessed and senses that it is not just for me to keep it to myself.  I’ve been blessed and must pass it on as a life-giving and enhancing option available to others.