I continue to worship with Stones River. They also insisted I continue to serve as one of the six shepherds (“elders” sounds old and within our fellowship these groups tend to focus too much on things deacons should do and no one focuses on spiritual leadership, so we decided a name change might remind us and the members of our family that we are attempting to have a different focus). While I gather with Stones River, when I am in town, I travel a fair amount internationally and domestically. These are the times when it is hard staying in the loop, but I have a deep trust of the other men with whom I serve. Nine out of the next ten weeks I will miss our Sunday gathering, but I will be able to participate in the Monday evening shepherds meetings.
Starting next Sunday, I will be driving about forty miles to do some training at another church. Some of their folks have opened a non-profit coffee shop as an intentional outreach. The business was deliberately organized as a fund-raising mechanism for water projects in third-world nations. The name is appropriately, The Well.
Recently, they launched three Sunday evening worship experiences that happen in one side of the coffee house. They have met eight people who have expressed some interest in further spiritual discussions. But how do these caring Christians conduct these conversations in ways that are non-manipulative and hold the greatest hope of bearing spiritual fruit. They hope Discovery Groups will be helpful.
Recently, I was introduced to The Change Formula: C = (D x V x F) > R. This business principle affirms that Change equals Dissatisfaction x Vision x First Steps that is greater than the Resistance. Without being able to envision a new reality, being dissatisfied with status quo and armed with a knowledge of how to get started, change will never happen. But these three must all be present and their combined force must be greater than the resistance that is present.
When I first heard this I thought, “Oh, well, that is interesting.” But a couple of weeks later I found myself referring to the formula. What I began to notice is that failed attempts to produce real change lack at least one of the three being present in sufficient quantities. Most change agents appear to assume that presenting a new vision is enough to produce change. Often, when they find that to be inadequate, they will attack the status quo in an attempt to produce dissatisfaction. But it is possible that people will become dissatisfied with the pressure being placed on them to produce change and the net result is the resistance is actually increased.
But the piece of the equation that has really grabbed my attention is the call for “First Steps.” When I first encountered the vision of Church Planting Movements, I lacked clear First Steps to model, coach and mentor others to take who caught the vision and felt the dissatisfaction. Without being able to suggest first steps, I could not catalyze change.
Yes, these recently settled people were at great risk. Their situation was dire.
The king of Assyria ordered, “Send back some priests who were taken into exile from there. They can go back and live there and instruct the people in what the god of the land expects of them….They honored and worshiped God, but not exclusively—they also appointed all sorts of priests, regardless of qualification, to conduct a variety of rites at the local fertility shrines. They honored and worshiped God, but they also kept up their devotions to the old gods of the places they had come from” (2 Kings 17:27,32-33, The Message).
The Samaritans of Jesus’ day were descended from these peoples. This is the historical-cultural background behind Jesus’ parable we call “The Good Samaritan.” It also informs his interactions with the woman at the well and people from her village. Jews considered the Samaritans spiritual mutts. While they claimed to worship the God of Israel, the religious purists knew their sordid spiritual lineage.
Sounds remarkably similar to Islam.
Would Jesus shock us with the modern-day Parable of the Good Muslim? Would he spend a couple of days with Muslims who want to hear about the Messiah?
Take a look with me at the Samaritans. When Assyria took the ten northern tribes captive, they moved people from other nations they conquered into the region to harvest the crops so Assyria could receive taxes. (Wars are most often fought over economic resources.) Israel was valuable for the crops raised there and also the tariffs that could be charged for the products that came to and from the Far East and Africa. Nearby seaports like Tyre and Sidon gained great wealth as transportation hubs, while Israel exported wheat, barley, wine and olive oil. The rulers in Nineveh wanted people there to avoid losing the wealth to be had. Here’s how 2 Kings 17:24-26 is stated in The Message:
The king of Assyria brought in people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and relocated them in the towns of Samaria, replacing the exiled Israelites. They moved in as if they owned the place and made themselves at home. When the Assyrians first moved in, God was just another god to them; they neither honored nor worshiped him. Then God sent lions among them and people were mauled and killed.
This message was then sent back to the king of Assyria: “The people you brought in to occupy the towns of Samaria don’t know what’s expected of them from the god of the land, and now he’s sent lions and they’re killing people right and left because nobody knows what the god of the land expects of them.”
During the seasons when they honored God, Israel shone brightly (e.g., the fame Solomon enjoyed when the Queen of Sheba visited). But when they became insular and rebellious, Yahweh still used them to reveal his glory to the nations.
There are seasons when we go to the nations willingly. There are seasons when they come to us and we willingly present the beauty of God’s transformative covenant relationship. But there are also times when we are sent against our best-laid plans (e.g., Jonah to Nineveh, Paul under arrest in Rome). And, last but not least, there are the times when God’s people are captives to their enemies in their own land. American Christians have known the first three. I pray we never have to experience the fourth. This only comes as God’s corrective to the persistent rebellion of his people to be a blessing to the people groups [nations].
Yes, I believe the church is being watched in the heavenlies. I believe God is doing something on a grander scale than our faith allows us to see (most of the time). I believe there are times when he pulls back the curtains to give us a kingdom of heaven peek. I believe we are living through intriguing times.
Muslims continue to move into our county. They come because of educational opportunities afforded them. There is an excellent school for people who are learning English as a second (third, fourth, etc.) language. MTSU offers multiple majors. Housing and job opportunities abound.
But what if all the Christians who have become panicked since the mosque was proposed, took another tact? What if we prayed God would prepare Persons of Peace among them? What if the followers of Jesus became intentional in befriending these Muslims in order to identify Persons of Peace among them? What if we broke the norm? What if we pushed through our fear of the unknown and took Jesus’ command to make disciples of all the people groups [nations] seriously?
God selected Israel to be his grace answer to the multiplicity of cultures that arose after Babel (Genesis 11-12). He called Abram and his offspring and blessed them to be a blessing to the people groups [nations]. In covenant relationship with Yahweh, Israel was a city set on a hill. He placed them on the strategic land bridge between EurAsia and Africa. Here at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea and the western terminus of the trade routes East and South, God put his Chosen Ones.
Is it possible God is sending these people groups to us?
Yes, I know I crossed the line in my last post. I dared to contradict the maxim that Islam is the greatest enemy to Christianity. Let me explain something about my worldview. The greatest threat to Christianity is never any external force–not Islam, nor even secularism. Our greatest threat is ourselves.
Forgetting our identity in Christ is our greatest threat. Forgetting how our life story intersects with the story of the Kingdom of God is our great danger. Losing sight of what God has done for us and how that ought to affect our choices is our biggest temptation.
There are disciple makers in closed countries who lay it all on the line–every day. Muslim, Communist, totalitarian governments can make their lives difficult, but they cannot stop the transforming power of the gospel at work in the hearts of families. Stop allowing the politicians and/or the media to push your panic button. Stop losing sight of this reality that the Word of God reveals. Our “battle is not against flesh and blood.”
Living under the reign of the risen, exalted and ascended King Jesus is our calling. Saying, “Yes, Lord,” and meaning it is our purpose. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, Israel rejected the truth that the reign of God is enough when they demanded a king. Satan often tempts us to doubt that the Father has our best interests at heart (not just mine as an individual, but “our” as family, congregation, community, nation and world). Trust God!
Over the last few years Murfreesboro (my home town) has been thrust into international spotlight over opposition to a mosque that was constructed here. Numerous media have given the story extensive coverage. While some viewed this under the rubric of a clash between Islam and Christianity or tolerance and bigotry, there are probably stronger worldview clashes under the surface.
When politics and media wade into the fray, there are deeper dynamics. Murfreesboro is home of Middle Tennessee State University–the largest undergraduate university in our state. The news of opposition to the mosque played out differently there than people might have imagined. Secularists–folks who deny God’s continued involvement in our world (atheists and agnostics) loved the fracas. They were happy to see professed Christians looking intolerant. They relished the opportunity to portray all as bigots who talk about the Constitution, but are unwilling to honor its protections for other faith groups. Tragically, the young people at MTSU did not see us at our finest.
The worldview clash between Christians and Muslims became a smokescreen for the clash between secularism and faith in a Creator (something Christianity and Islam share). Odd, isn’t it? How many parents realized our response to this heated debate was potentially being leveraged by a much stronger third party?
Yes, there are marked conflicts between the worldview of Muslims and disciples of Jesus. But threat is far greater that our children will become secularists than Muslims.
Hold strong convictions. Exercise your freedom of speech. Realize how you say what you say is being gauged by those who know you best, too.
Exploring the issue of the worldview development in children is a challenge. The people who really need to change are the parents. The adults who shape the worldview of the children are critical. One’s worldview is more caught (or absorbed) than taught. When faced with a crisis of belief, do I trust what I know God’s Word reveals, or do I place my reliance elsewhere? “What is real?”–the fundamental worldview question seeks to explore my subjective answer to this question. It deals more with my perception of reality than rational(istic) answers to this question.
Our children witness where our professions and actions agree. They also experience the places where our “actions ring so loudly in their ears they cannot hear a word we are saying!” Because children learn our non-verbal cues long before they understand our words, they always believe the non-verbal. How we say what we say is more powerful than the meaning of the words. Tone, pace and sarcasm can radically impact how words are received.
Children learn from their parents whenever they are with them. They know when we have cowered, like Saul. They know when our profession clashes with our daily choices. They sense our authentic inner self. The best children’s curricula is the faith their parents live. How momma and daddy walk daily overwhelms thousands of classes!
But worldview is shaped in youth. Parents of friends, teachers and coaches also model from their worldviews. Comics, books and movies all interact with their perceived world from a worldview perspective. Parents cannot shelter their children from exposure to other worldviews. But they can raise them up to be discerning.