The Son of Man

Writing my last post on doing your research, combined with our family’s recent reading and study in the book of Revelation, and connected with my day-to-day work where I am routinely sharing my faith with non-believers, I was thinking about a particular subject that I wanted to write about here. This subject is related to Jesus calling himself the son of man.

I’ve read the Bible with several non-believing friends here in Catania. There have been a few times when my friends clearly understood the implications of what they were reading and became offended because it was significantly different from what they had learned in their youth and as they were growing up in a different faith.

I can remember one interaction like this where they simply said:

Jesus never said, “I am the son of God. Worship me!”

Aside from the fact that I knew that they were simply repeating what they heard someone else say on a YouTube video, I also knew that they were trying to deflect from the conversation and the realities about the story from the scripture that we were reading. It was an objection that wasn’t specifically germane to the conversation but they were looking for something to hold onto their position that Jesus is not God incarnate here on the earth.

At the same time, they were right. While Jesus did say that he was the son of man and the Messiah, and confirmed to Peter that God revealed to him what he had said when he called Jesus both the Messiah and the son of God, he never did say “I am the son of God.”

Instead, Jesus called himself the son of man. In fact, he referred to himself this way 78 times in the Gospels.

But I think the important question here is to understand what that title means. I can say that I am the son of a man and it is pretty clear that I simply mean that I am a person, a man. Did Jesus mean the same thing?

There is history and background that we have to take into account, and this knowledge is, I believe, what my non-believing friends are missing. If we look back into the book of Daniel, which includes prophecies about the end times, we can see a first reference to the son of man. Here is what it says:

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Daniel 7:13-14

When Jesus refers to himself as the “son of man”, what does it mean? Here are a few things that I can take from these two verses in Daniel 7:

  • He was coming on the clouds of heaven.
  • He was worthy to approach God, the Ancient of Days.
  • He was given authority, glory, and power over the earth.
  • He was worshiped by all people, of every language.
  • His kingdom and rule (dominion) will never end and will never be destroyed.

So now, I ask myself, What did Jesus mean when he called himself the son of man? Just looking at this list, I think it should be clear to say that he is a spiritual being who was given authority by God to set up a kingdom of earth and be worshiped by people across the face of the earth. And this is precisely the story, that if we are paying attention to Jesus’s words and deeds, that Jesus is telling throughout the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and is the same story that is affirmed by the apostles that come after him and the prophecy that later comes by John in the book of Revelation.

God is about to do something great

The title of this post is a refrain that I have heard throughout my life in the church. I’ve heard this regularly from pastors, from people who are explaining what they believe is a prophecy from God, or just from someone who is telling us what they think God is doing within us or around us.

As I write here on this blog site, I don’t like to write in the negative or be a critic, so I want to say that this is not my intention here. However, what I do want to say is that I have frequently been disappointed by these statements that “God is about to do something great”, because, through my eyes and in my experience, life seems to kind of roll along normally without anything seemingly “great” happening.

I want to allow for some possible explanations here that I think should be considered. Here are a few that I can think of:

First, I might have my head down or my heart closed such that I don’t see the great things that God is doing around me. This is a very real possibility and something that I have realized about myself at times after I have looked back in hindsight. After having realized this, I have put myself through seasons where I was specifically trying to look for God at work around me, and thankfully I have been able to see it at times. Thank God for this!

Second, connected to the first point, my expectations of what “great” means may be a bit too grand. I, of course, believe that God can work through everyday events as much as the spectacular, so looking for God within the everyday is important as well.

Third and finally, it may actually be that there is an optimism about God’s movement and working among us that is unwarranted given our lack of obedience and taking action upon his commandments.

Recently, I was talking with a friend about a difficult situation that he was facing. He told me that God would need to intervene and that he felt like Moses facing the Red Sea. He knows that God will need to act for him to go forward in the situation that he is in and he quoted what Moses said to the Israelite people in Exodus 14:

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Exodus 14:13-14

We find out that Moses is exactly right. God does fight for the Israelites. As we go forward in Exodus 14, we see that God gives the Israelites a rear guard throughout the night, he parts the Red Sea so that they can cross, and then he covers the Egyptian army with the sea such that it wipes out both Pharaoh and the entire army. Truly, Moses is correct that God will fight for them, and we see that God follows through on this promise!

My sense is that this is the nature of these promises from the pastors and the prophetic words that say God is about to do something are similar to the words from Moses. In many ways, I think that they are right. I believe that God is typically up to something and ready to move, ready to draw others to himself, ready to use someone.

So why have I not, then, sensed significant movement when these things are proclaimed and declared? Wouldn’t I expect to know that, if God is moving around me, I should be able to recognize it? It certainly seems that way as we look in the scriptures as the people typically knew that God was moving, even if they didn’t know precisely the nature of what he was doing.

Keeping in mind that it could be any of the three areas that I mentioned above, I want to suggest that I think it really is related to the third issue above, a lack of obedience in the things that we have already been told to do.

Interestingly, about the time that I had this conversation with my friend, I also had been reading this exact same passage with my family during our morning time in the Bible that we have while eating our breakfast. At that time, I noticed that God, right after Moses told the Israelites to be still and to stand firm, God immediately then tells Moses to get moving! Directly in the next verses, here is what God says:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.

Exodus 14:15-16

We see, therefore, that God tells Moses to get moving. He doesn’t want them to stay put. He wants them to go!

So was Moses wrong when he told the Israelites to stand firm, and to be still? Was God overruling him? Maybe / maybe not. In my opinion, I think that, if Moses means that the Israelites need to have a dependency upon God and that he will do everything that they need to escape, then he is exactly correct. And in truth, I think that this is precisely what Moses means.

But if we look at the entirety of the passage, we see that God calls Moses and the Israelites to move, to continue their escape from Egypt, to continue to do what he had already told them to do. He wants them to continue to obey him. They are to continue to trust him, that he would deliver them, but they are to continue in their obedience because of their trust in him, and in this way, God will save them from destruction at the hand of the Egyptians.

How do we apply this, then, to our situation today? When people say, “God is about to do something great”, can’t we also say that we must trust that God is working while at the same time being certain that we’re doing what he has already told us to do?

Jesus said:

If you love me, keep my commands.

John 14:15

Here are some foundational commands that we might consider:

Are we loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength?

Are we loving our neighbor as ourselves?

Are we making disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything that he commanded?

In what real, practical ways are we doing this? If we say that we are doing it, is it the case that we are simply agreeing with the scriptures that these things are right without making it practical in our lives, or are we actually putting time, energy, money, and effort behind making these things real? How? In what way?

I believe that it is true that God is about to do something great, but I don’t know that we will see it unless we are doing the things that he has already told us. God is always doing something new, but as his people, we need to remember that God has already given us all sorts of things to do, and we need to be sure that we’re doing those things. I believe that it is likely that through our doing the things that God has already told us to do that we will see God do something great.

Redeemed

This scene is from a video series that was recently released called The Chosen. It is a dramatization that pulls together the writer’s ideas about certain Biblical characters and gives extra, non-Biblical storyline in an attempt to provide context for the time that Jesus begins his ministry. If you’re interested in seeing more, I recommend checking out the series, either on their website or on their YouTube channel.

This last Sunday was Easter Sunday, and here in Italy, we have been in quarantine during the coronavirus lockdown. That has meant that we have been worshiping together as a family, reading and discussing them together.

On Saturday night, the night before, we watched the first couple of episodes of The Chosen, and I was struck by how Jesus, in this scene, called Mary Magdalene by name and how similar that seemed to the time when Jesus called her by name on Easter morning outside of the tomb.

In the dramatization (and keep in mind, this is fictional), Mary is called Lilith, who, as I understand, was a demonic figure in Jewish folklore. But this does align with our understanding of Mary Magdalene from the Bible because we know that Jesus healed her by casting out seven demons.

In this scene, we see Jesus call Mary by her real name and then he quotes a passage to her from Isaiah 43:

But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

Isaiah 43:1

This becomes a dramatized scene, therefore, of the time that Jesus healed Mary and sent out the demons. This is the time that Jesus redeemed Mary.

But what does this mean, to be redeemed? When the prophet Isaiah speaks for God and says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you”, what is this saying?

This idea of redemption comes from the idea that, if someone were to sell themselves into slavery, they could be brought out of that slavery by a redeemer, someone who would pay the price for the person to be brought out of that slavery. Here are a couple examples of how this worked in ancient Israel:

“‘If a foreigner residing among you becomes rich and any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to the foreigner or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, they retain the right of redemption after they have sold themselves. One of their relatives may redeem them: An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. Or if they prosper, they may redeem themselves.

Leviticus 25:47-49

Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat down there just as the guardian-redeemer he had mentioned came along. Boaz said, “Come over here, my friend, and sit down.” So he went over and sat down.

Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, “Sit here,” and they did so. Then he said to the guardian-redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our relative Elimelek. I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.”

“I will redeem it,” he said.

Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.”

At this, the guardian-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.”

(Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.)

So the guardian-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.” And he removed his sandal.

Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses! ”

Then the elders and all the people at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.”

Ruth 4:1-12

I love how Jesus called Mary by name, both in this dramatized scene as well as in the resurrection story. This directly aligns with the action of the redeemer that we read in Isaiah 43. The redeemer calls them out, purchasing them from their slavery, and setting them free.

This redemption happened for Mary, and is also the freedom that Jesus wants to give to all of us. Whether we realize it or not, we have been in slavery to our sin and Jesus gave himself to redeem us and to set us free. Through his death we have a sacrifice as a payment for the sins, but through his resurrection, we have life that sets us free. Like Mary, Jesus calls us by name, so we no longer need to be afraid of anything, but instead can be free because we are his.

Rapid Growth?

As I was growing up, I was a competitive swimmer. From the time that I was 10 until 18, I swam as part of several clubs and school teams.

At Eastern High School, the school that I went to from my earliest days, there was a poster that hung on the wall. It was a picture of Greg Louganis, a competitive diver who was making a name for himself for several reasons around that time. His greatest platform was that he was simply a great diver, winning gold medals at two Olympics, in 1984 and 1988, in multiple events.

The poster on the wall, while I can’t remember exactly what it said, essentially talked about Greg’s “Overnight Success”. It went something like:

After 20 years, they called him an overnight success.

The point of the poster was that, if you think that you will have success quickly, in whatever you do, think again. If you want to have the kind of success that Greg has had, it will take long-term commitment. It will take work to improve yourself and your techniques. Work that must be sustained for years and decades. And then success may come your way.

I thought of that poster this week when I read this article by Elliot Clark on the Gospel Coalition’s website. The article is actually a critique of the type of work that we do. He speaks of some who are placing expectations on others to grow rapidly in their discipleship work, creating “overnight success” in their missional work. In response, I had three thoughts I wanted to share.

First, I wanted to say that I generally agree. As you hopefully see from my thoughts above, I don’t really believe much in overnight success. Not because it is terrible if it would happen, but instead that it just typically doesn’t work that way. Like the example of Greg Louganis, the norm is that you work for a long time, doing the right things over a sustained period, and then you might see success. There are no guarantees in life, but generally speaking, if your goals are worth working for, they are worth working a long time to achieve.

Second, I do believe that quick, exponential growth is certainly possible in our line of work, but it would come as a result of having multiple people doing the work. In disciple-making, a multiplying effect would come if there are people who are multiplying the work. It only makes sense that if you have 1 person who makes another disciple, you now only have 2 disciples. Even though you’ve grown by 100%, it still doesn’t look like much to others looking in from the outside.

But after that, you have 2 that will make 4, and 4 that make 8, and 8 that make 16, and so on. And after some time, you see the multiplying effect that you’re looking for. If you were to just start to know these people after they hit this stride of the multiplying effect, and if you weren’t careful to think deeply about the history of how the group arrived at this place where you have now found them, you might start telling a story of an “overnight success” with rapid growth, one who should be formulaically copied because of the speed of their success, meanwhile having forgotten all of the time and effort required from the beginning.

Third, I think it would be much more helpful if Elliot were to speak more specifically. Instead of throwing a blanket over an entire group of people and their work, thus making it sound like everyone who does this kind of work thinks this way, I believe it would be better to call people out directly. Anyone can write a criticism that sweeps across multiple people, but it takes someone who actually cares more deeply to dive into the issue with individuals and effect change.

In my opinion, throwing blanket criticisms can have some pretty divisive effects. Even if it is not Elliot’s intention, the results can be – and I can experientially confirm this to be the case – that people will believe that anyone who is working to do disciple-making work and using similar terminology to what he is criticizing, believe just as he suggests.

So, because I have personally heard these types of criticisms before where it has been suggested that I advocate speed of evangelism and conversion with a superficial layer of learning instead of a depth of discipleship, I’d like to be clarify how I see this issue:

  1. We must sow the Gospel broadly across multiple people.
  2. Those that respond, we must teach to follow Christ. This takes study, experience, time, correction, repentance, and many other steps.
  3. Part of following Christ is teaching these followers to teach others. I see no need to wait a long time for someone to share and teach others what they have learned, but instead, as a disciple receives something from God, they should pass it along to another.
  4. This will likely go on in small numbers for quite some time. However, after a while, you will have multiple people who are doing this together – walking in Christ together, making disciples together – and this will begin to produce a multiplying effect.
  5. As a result, you will likely initially go slow, working closely with smaller numbers of people at first, but after a while, looking at the group as a whole, you will see that a group will become much larger and it will appear to be growing quickly. This will be due to the fact that there are multiple people going through this discipleship process at the same time, not because the process itself necessarily suggests that you must move quickly.

Baptism in the Name of Jesus

I have recently had some conversations with some friends within our discipleship network about baptism. A video, in fact, was sent to me with a teaching on why we should baptize in the name of Jesus instead of in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as Jesus says in Matthew 28:19.

I hope to represent the discussion well, and I write this primarily to help myself think this through as I tend to do best when I can organize the ideas coming to me and then organize my ideas as well.

So, let’s start with an outline of the teaching that was sent to me.

Looking at Matthew 28, we see that Jesus is returning to heaven to be with the Father and he is giving his final instructions to his disciples. He says:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

However, later, in the book of Acts, we see that the apostles baptize in the name of Jesus. Here are some examples:

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38

When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Acts 8:15-16

“Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Acts 10:47-48

On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Acts 19:5

The assertion here, then, is that the apostles did not baptize as Jesus told them, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but instead in the name of Jesus.

So why, according to my friends who are teaching this, would the apostles do this?

The first justification is that they believe that Jesus gave them additional revelation and instruction through the Holy Spirit. In the book of John, we can see that Jesus tells his disciples this:

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

John 16:12-15

So in this scripture, we see that Jesus says that he has more to say to them and that the Holy Spirit will guide them in the truth. As a result, my friends say that baptizing in the name of Jesus – as we see in the four scriptures above – is one of those things that Jesus teaches the apostles through the Holy Spirit.

Another scripture that they point to is in Colossians where Paul admonishes the Colossian church:

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:17

Clearly, baptizing someone is something that we would do in deed, so this also would fall into the category of being done in the name of Jesus.

I’ve asked whether or not they consider this to be a contradiction between what Jesus said and what they are saying is the practice of the apostles to baptize in the name of Jesus. They say No, there is no contradiction. Here are the points to explain why:

First, they say that we know that when Jesus says to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we aren’t actually “saying their names”. We know the name of the son – Jesus – but otherwise the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Christ.

In terms of the “name of the Father”, they point to John 17:26 where they say that, in the Greek, Jesus says that he has revealed the Father’s name to the people, not only that he has made the Father known to the people as it is translated in English in the NIV.

Second, they say, we know that the name of Jesus is the only name that saves, so why is there a need to say another “name”?

Finally, they point out that when the Holy Spirit came, the disciples, now as the apostles, would have understood that the name Yeshua means Yah saves, so if we say that we’re baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then by baptizing in the name of Jesus creates no contradiction.


Framing the issue

OK, so now we’re asking… what do we think about this? From my perspective, I’m thinking about a few different components to this question:

First, theologically, is there a problem here? Is this interpretation creating a contradiction within the scripture, or is it possible that the method being used here is flawed?

Second, the goal of our work is to make disciples that make disciples. Therefore, it is clear that what is taught is, by definition, intended to be passed down and practiced. We are teaching one to teach another to teach another, etc., over multiple generations. If we endorse a practice that is not good in one way, we would expect to see this practice handed down from one generation to the next.

Third, in our Christian world where we are known for division, I think that it is important to fight for unity. If that is the goal, then, what are the criteria that we should use to be certain that, if we are to divide, we are doing it based on very good reasons that address the core of our faith, not on a secondary issue that shouldn’t be significant enough to ultimately regret making a decision for division.


Theological discussion

Theologically speaking, here are a few thoughts that I’ve had regarding baptizing in the name of Jesus.

First, I acknowledge that, at the least, the book of Acts says that the apostles call for new believers to be baptized in the name of Jesus. The question that I have, then, is whether or not that necessarily means that they are doing something different than what Jesus had directly told them to do. To make a couple of examples, could it be that they were drawing a couple of possible distinctions here? Here are two possibilities that I can think of:

One option might be that they are drawing a distinction between the baptism of John the Baptist, the other popular baptism happening at that same time done as a sign of repentance before God, and a baptism in the name of Jesus. In that case, maybe they would call for people to be baptized in the name of Jesus but yet, at the point of actually baptizing someone, they do as Jesus commanded and baptize “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”.

A second possibility that I have seen in the commentaries is that the apostles, when saying that people should be baptized in the name of Jesus, are drawing a distinction for the Jewish people. For them, and for any others who are already part of monotheistic faiths, to be called to be baptized in the name of Jesus would be a distinguishing factor from what they have known previously. Belief in the ability to come to God through Jesus distinguishes the new believer from their previous faith of some other ways to connect to God, whether through sacrifices, good deeds, or otherwise.

So as I’ve thought about this, I’ve sort of (I think – I’m not sure, yet…) convinced myself that, if I were to go to a baptism today, and the person baptizing said to the one being baptized, “I baptize you in the name of Jesus Christ!” and then dunked them in the water, I might think – Hmm… that seems different than what I understand, but… OK…

But it is the next part of the discussion where I sense some concern welling up within myself and a sense of potential danger. When my friends pointed to John 16:12-15, it seems to me to be a problem. As a refresher, it says:

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

John 16:12-15

Here are a couple of reasons why this concerns me:

First, Jesus says that he has much more to say than his disciples can now bear. To me, this suggests that there are things that he will explain to them that he hasn’t explained to them previously, things he hasn’t spoken about. An example of this might be how the church should function and how leadership might work amongst them as they form their community. These will be important issues for them in the future as they lead others, but the specifics of these issues haven’t been addressed to date from Jesus, at least as far as we know. So this might be something that the Holy Spirit would speak to them about and could be something more than they could bear.

And second, the invocation of this verse, saying that the Holy Spirit spoke to the disciples, telling them to do something different than what Jesus had told them to do previously seems pretty difficult to swallow from my perspective. Why would Jesus tell the disciples to do one thing only to have the Holy Spirit tell them something different just a few days later?

As a result, this is where I have a concern because if we are willing to make an interpretation here that Jesus would say one thing and then subsequently say, without any direct evidence, that the Holy Spirit told the apostles something different, that leaves a lot of the scripture up in the air. It is a “slippery slope”, as they say, because if you can interpret one scripture in this way, you could do the same with others.

It seems to me that, instead of saying that there is a “new revelation” we should be considering some other explanation for the difference between what Jesus said and what we see the disciples saying within the book of Acts. Is it possible that one of the explanations above, or potentially yet another explanation, could be the reason for the difference?

How we practice

Now, moving on to the issue of how we practice… Within our network of disciples and disciple-makers, I think that there are a few things that we should keep in mind:

First, we should assume that there will be theological differences and differences in practice between us and the people that we are working with. We should both be prepared for this and prepared for how we can distinguish between issues that are at the “core” of both our theology and our practice and those that are not. In this case, we need to confirm, theologically, how close to the core these issues are, and for what reasons.

Second, because the very nature of our work is to create generations of disciples (disciples making disciples), we need to be sure that we are OK with the passing down of a particular type of teaching.

Beyond that, what are the points that we want to make sure are taught in a particular way. For example, our second lesson within the Commands of Christ specifically teaches a way of baptizing, and that in the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. Are we OK with someone leading others in a way that is different from others that we are teaching?

It seems that changes are likely to happen in other contexts as well, especially as we think about the use of specific disciple-making tools as we are likely to run into various types of tools that individuals will use. I suppose this, then, probably ultimately connects back to our theological views. Are we OK with what would be not only a change in the practice but also the theological perspective?

Fighting for Unity

In the last point around fighting for unity, I think that we need to seriously consider what it means to fight for unity among us as believers. Below are some questions to ask ourselves that I have been considering for this question, and potentially for other things that will likely come up in the future:

  • Is Jesus being exalted and held up as our King and Savior if we do this?
  • Is God being glorified if we do this?
  • Are we certain that we are hearing from the Holy Spirit if we do this?
  • Can we maintain a core connection to our faith while continuing to work together without sacrificing what we believe is correct biblically?
  • Are we continuing to speak the same ministry “language” and staying true to our vision of seeing a movement go forward if we do this?

I think that, if we can answer Yes to these questions, we should probably have good reason to continue to maintain unity amongst us.

But I’m not an evangelist…

Well, I’m not really a very good one either, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

The title of this post is a sentiment that I’ve heard from time to time over the last several years. I’ve heard it expressed in a few different ways, but several people have told me something that goes like this:

You don’t understand… Not everyone is like you and can do the things that you do. We aren’t all evangelists.

Or they might possibly connect the discussion to spiritual gifting:

You know, I just don’t have the gift of evangelism, so sharing with others isn’t what I do.

Or finally, suggesting the same about others:

God doesn’t give the same gifts to everyone, so we can’t suggest that everyone should be able to share with others in the same way that you do.

These concerns – really, objections – typically come up with Christians that I’ve spoken with as we’ve discussed that being a disciple of Jesus means making a disciple of Jesus. In fact, based on this experience, I would even dare to say that some reading this post will likely say that I raise this issue because I have a gifting of evangelism and am sensitized to this, thinking that everyone should go and constantly evangelize others (I’ve heard that one too! 😉).

But please hear me when I say that this is not who I am. Yes, I do go to evangelize. I do walk up to people on the streets, start a conversation and ultimately share my testimony, the Gospel, or both with them. And there are times that I walk away from those conversations having truly enjoyed how it went.

But I promise you that each time that I do, it is a matter of decision. I’ve scheduled that time because I know that I need to specifically set aside the time to go, or I won’t go. I’ve put together the things that I need for that time and walked out the door, obligating myself to go and do it…because it doesn’t come naturally to me.

Instead, for me, the truth is something quite different. I have needed to learn from others the importance of going, how to share, and what to do as a next step after I have completed the initial steps of connecting and sharing the Gospel. And it is this process that I have been through that I believe the scriptures speak of and teach us.

Just before returning to heaven, Jesus told his disciples that they would speak for him locally and beyond. He said:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Acts 1:8

So we see that Jesus intended for us to share with others, yet I wonder where the confusion comes from about whether or not we are called to share with others, to be evangelists. Personally, I think that it is related to a fear of rejection for our faith. We think that by sharing with others we will no longer be in relationship with those that know what we truly believe. And it is possible that this is true, that we might be rejected.

But I think that the most difficult part is that we might use the listing of the spiritual gifts that are intended to build up the church as an excuse why we shouldn’t do one of those things because that is currently not one of the areas where we are strong.

Let’s take a look at what that scripture says:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-13

We can see clearly here that there is a reason that Christ gave these gifts. Of course, it should be the case that those with these gifts are exercising them regularly, but that actually isn’t what Paul says here. Instead, he says that it is to equip the people to serve!

If we are to follow the plans and commands of Jesus, I believe it means that we need to bring forward those who have each of the gifts and allow them to teach so that the body will be equipped. Some of that teaching may not look like what we are used to in our churches, but I believe that it is very important if we truly desire to see the body of Christ around us built up into maturity and the fullness of Christ.

Grow Where You’re Planted

I’ve moved around quite a lot in my life. Because of my Dad’s changing job situation and some other factors at the time, I went to a different school in each of my four years of high school.

That was followed by my first and second years of university at different schools.

Gina and I were then married and moved near Louisville, Kentucky for my student teaching, only to move back to Indianapolis for a couple of years, living in two different apartments there.

I was then offered a new job in St. Louis, where we went to live for 11 years and were in two different houses and an apartment there.

Another job offer and we moved to Denver. Two different houses there as well.

And finally (or at least “finally” up to now), our move to Catania on the island of Sicily.

By my count, that is 11 cities, in at least 15 homes, in 2 different countries and 3 US states over the last 30 years. It makes me tired just doing the counting!

So you might think that I would be the last person to talk about growing where you’re planted, but I prefer to think that having had these experiences helps me to see the significance of what I read and saw while in Israel last October:

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.

Mark 1:14

This seems like a fairly innocuous verse, at least until you take a look at the context of what had just happened. Jesus had just seen two very significant things happen in his life.

First, Jesus had just been baptized by John the Baptist, was given the Holy Spirit, and God Himself speaks from heaven, telling Jesus who he is and that he loves him.

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:9-11

Second, the Holy Spirit takes Jesus into the wilderness where he would be tempted by Satan. Satan speaks to him to offer him food to overcome his hunger, tests his identity, and offers him power over the kingdoms of the world. In the end, though, Jesus defeats Satan and doesn’t fall victim to his temptations. Satan leaves and the angels are watching over him.

Given this context, it puts that first scripture in a completely new light for me. For most people, I think that, if we know that we have been called and blessed by God, and especially if we sense that we have any power whatsoever – both of these things happened to Jesus prior to him returning to Galilee – we would be thinking of the most strategic location in which we could be setting up a ministry work. In other words, my guess is that we would be thinking of the best way to grow the largest ministry to affect the greatest number of people. In Jesus’s case, if he were to follow this path, I would have thought that he would have immediately entered Jerusalem. That is the capitol, the seat of power, both religiously and in the government. I would have thought that is where he would have gone.

But here, we see Jesus return to Galilee. Do you know what is in Galilee? Outside of the “Sea” that we read about in the scriptures (really, a large lake), there are some small towns, but even today, there isn’t much. 2000 years ago, there would have been a lot less!

Just to give you some perspective, here is a picture that we took on a plateau that overlooks the northern side of Galilee.

IMG_8607

Somewhat strangely, we see that this is the area where Jesus calls and teaches his disciples. This is the area where he teaches most of the parables and performs most of his miracles. It isn’t in Jerusalem. It is here in Galilee, where there aren’t a lot of people. There isn’t a seat of political power. In fact, among the Jewish leaders, there is at least indifference, if not disdain, for this area. There was even a saying amongst the Jewish people that no prophet would come from Galilee, even though the scriptures didn’t say this. The Jewish people’s dislike for this area blinded them such that they couldn’t see what God was doing through their own nation.

As I’ve thought about this over the last couple of weeks, I was reminded of something that we learned while on this trip to Israel, seeing this area, and understanding that this was Jesus’s home for most of his life. The lesson that I learned was that, regardless of where we are, God’s desire for us is to be faithful, to live lives that honor God, to make disciples and teach others to do the same. There is no need to do what seems heroic to other people. The primary thing that we should do is figure out how God is working around you where you are and be part of that work, being faithful to follow Him throughout our time.

The Power of Simplicity

On Thursday, Paul and I met a good friend from Gambia after not seeing him for several months. As we were catching up, we learned that he had recently baptized another young man and was now going on to disciple him to follow Jesus. It was great news, and it seemed that he was developing a vision for making disciples of other guys.

At one point, I asked him, if he had to teach his new friend to share the Gospel with someone else, would he know how to do it? He thought for a moment and said, “No, I don’t think I know what I would teach him.”

I asked him if I could quickly show him a way to share the Gospel and he said Yes. We walked through the Three Circles in about five minutes, and then, without preparing him that he would need to do anything, I asked him to share with me the same thing that I showed him, meanwhile hiding what I had shown him. He missed a few details, but certainly was able to explain the primary gist of the Three Circles, and thus the good news of the Gospel of Christ.

So, why is this story important? I think there are two main reasons:

  1. Our friend now knows at least one way to share the Gospel with other people.
  2. He now has a simple way to teach his new disciple how to share the Gospel.

This is critical because we now have the ability to duplicate our efforts.

Very frequently, we talk about wanting to do what Jesus told us to do, to make disciples and teach others to do what Jesus taught us to do, but we miss making it practical. Somehow, it seems that we believe that we’ll learn to do it someday, but if we are truthful, that day rarely comes for most people. And because it never comes, we have millions of Christians who could be sharing with others, reaching their friends, their family, or others across their community or across the world, but it doesn’t happen because they simply don’t know how.

At one point in our conversation, I asked my Gambian friend, if I gave him a cup, if he would know what to do with it. Of course, he said. It was a hot day, and we were sitting outside, drinking a lot of water. The cup was a simple tool that allowed him to take a drink of water. We discussed that the Three Circles is like the cup. It is a tool that, because of its simplicity, you can easily understand how to use it to do what you want to be able to do.

I believe that it is very important that we both read and understand the scriptures, but I believe we must also find ways to put them into practice in very practical ways. And beyond this, we must teach those around us to be able to do the same themselves. We shouldn’t wait to find the “right person” to share with our friends or family. We shouldn’t need to wait until we think the time is right and invite them to our churches. No, instead, for each person to be both ready and able to share in simple ways what God has done through Jesus in our lives and for the whole of humanity.

To do this, we need to use the power of simplicity. We need to be able to share this amazing message in a way that someone else, within a few minutes, can learn and understand, and be ready to turn around and teach it to someone else. If we do this, then I believe that we can see the good news of Jesus travel from one person to the next, moving ahead without limits.