Like A Good Neighbor, the Church Should be There

church_hand shakingIf you’ve seen the State Farm Insurance commercial, you’ll probably recognize that I’m leveraging their little jingle about a topic I’ve been reflecting on over a conversation I had recently with a lady at my church. She heads an outreach ministry that we do with a local elementary school. Basically, she coordinates donations and other needs that teachers and/or students have. The thrust of the ministry is to be a good neighbor.

At our monthly fellowship meal, she showed me a card that the church received from a 3rd grade class at the school. It was your typical grade school homemade card with cute little pictures and kids signatures. But one thing stood out about this card that she wanted to highlight: the drawing of the church had a smile on the door. That is how these kids saw the church.

It strikes me that this is how people should see the church. Now that doesn’t mean that we get sloppy or neglectful of the message that we proclaim. It doesn’t mean going soft on the gospel. But, that this group of people who seem to hold to a different life paradigm than society are actually loving people.

Now, for those who don’t know, I go a Reformed (PCA) church. It is one of those churches that at one time I would have labeled as cold and stodgy and irrelevant (glad for the correction now!). The theology is conservative, the Word is clearly preached and the gospel is always proclaimed. It could never be confused with liberalism.

Why do I make that qualification? When it comes to the relationship of the church to the world, there is a tension between what has been labeled as word ministry vs. deed ministry. And I think that is an unhelpful dichotomy. Of course the push back is reaction against liberal churches who have exchanged the good news of Jesus Christ with deeds. Continue reading

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Wise Foolishness or Foolish Wisdom?: The Gospel is Offensive Enough

eastercrossEvery spring, DTS holds the World Evangelism Conference a week before spring break. This year’s message was on the abundance of the gospel. Dr. Mark Young, president of Denver Seminary was the plenary speaker. Each session dealt with the way of abundance in reference to the Christ’s reign and the gospel. He spends the first few minutes summarizing the themes from the previous three days.

On the third day, he talked about the way of abundance is not as the world defines abundance. He leverages that thought in his last installment as he talks about the way of abundance being foolishness. The key text he used was 1 Corinthians 1:17-25

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel – not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. But to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of the age? Has not God made the foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe…

Dr. Young brings some much needed clarification to this passage that it does not mean we neglect the intellect. Rather, it is that the wisdom of Christianity is foolishness to this world. What is that wisdom? That God made himself known through his Son, born of a virgin, taking on flesh, submitting himself to a lowly birth, a humble existence, and the execution of a criminal. He died, was buried and on the 3rd day he arose and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. To be in good favor with this God is not through ways deemed successful by the world’s standards but through acknowledgment of God’s upside down paradigm based on what he did through his Son. I encourage you to listen to his message. It is 50 minutes well worth your time.

Proclaiming the exclusivity of this message in a world going increasing pluralistic is foolish. Accepting that there is something dreadfully wrong with us that makes us unable to offer any righteousness towards God is foolish. Believing that the only way to be acceptable to God is to believe in the sacrifice of his Son is foolish. And it’s offensive to those who don’t believe. Yes, the gospel is offensive because it confronts humanity with their inability to earn their own righteousness.

This is what Paul is referring to in this passage. But what we should not do is make the wisdom of God look foolish. We should not take Paul’s words to mean that ignorance of our faith is acceptable as long as you have the Spirit.Yes, the Spirit empowers but Paul is not indicating that critical thinking is not spiritual but that thinking should be subject to a Christian worldview. We should not feel we need to help the gospel along with tricks, gimmicks and bait and switch techniques. We don’t need to deliver the message in a foolish manner but with wisdom and tact.

God’s wisdom in this upside down paradigm confronts people all by itself. So when proclaiming the message we ourselves don’t need to be foolish or offensive. The offense is already in the message.  Wisdom in proclaiming God’s wisdom means articulating the message in a manner that is clear and concise and welcoming. We need not be hostile people, but patient, wise and discerning.