Posted by: mikebackup | May 11, 2012

An outrageous challenge

Luke 10.1-12

1 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.

George Lois helped revolutionise advertising in the 1950s[1]. The main reason for this was his attitude to creativity, his defining statement was this:

“The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything. And I really believe that. What I try to teach young people, or anybody in any creative field, is that every idea should seemingly be outrageous.”

Christians are very much in a creative field, called to be co-creators with none other than the greatest of all creators – God himself. Wow what an achievement creation is, it is just to be marvelled at, praised and be a creative inspiration for working with God. What a disappointment most Christians must be to God, because many are not creative at all, let alone outrageously creative.

Let’s look through that statement again and relate it to church

“The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.”

Every congregation needs to balance traditional habits and originality. Habits are both gift and curse to the follower of Christ. Our habits define us and give our life structure and depth. Whereas our habits can blind us to new thoughts and growth that require a break in our routines.

Congregations desperately need to provide an anchor in the lives of people who find themselves caught up in overwhelming change. Having a place that worships an unchanging God and stands as a reminder of what really matters is a fine role for a church.

However, worshipping an unchanging God does not mean congregations are to worship an unchanging way of being church.

Those that do are cursed by sameness. Such congregations become blindly trapped in habitual and robotic planning, repetitious events, and a sameness that deadens and does disservice to our God, who is the author of creativity and originality.

Healthy congregations engage the part of their brain that God intended to be used for creativity and originality. They do not disdain new ideas because they are new, but filter them through the truth of Scripture and the spirit of Christ.

Creativity and originality are sadly lacking in too many congregations who have come to equate only the habitual with the holy. Habitual is boring not holy.

Nature teaches us that God is the source of an amazing diversity that defines everything, from people to plants to planets. Why don’t our churches embody more of this aspect of God?

“Every idea should seemingly be outrageous.”

Likewise, most congregations need to be introduced to some aspect of seeming “outrageousness.”

Far too many of us in daily life equate different with bad, and so do the majority of churches. Notice that the qualifier for outrageous is “seemingly.”

Some of the most meaningful and memorable moments in our lives start out seemingly outrageous.

“Let’s get married.” “We’re going to have twins!” “What if we relocated our church?” “I think God is calling us overseas.”

In the Bible, God repeatedly shows up with outrageous ideas and invites his people to live into them.

“Leave the land you know for a land I will show you.” “Place the baby in a basket.” “Cross the Red Sea.” “Leave your job and follow me.” “Pray for those who persecute you.”

The list is endless. We serve an outrageous God who invites us into seemingly outrageous acts of faith and service.

That brings us to our reading which is an outrageous creative challenge to all Christians in this country. Firstly we need to understand what Luke is doing through his Gospel. Luke was written to confused downhearted second generation Christians. The great burst of growth of the early church had come to an end but most importantly Jesus had not returned as they had expected. There was conflict, confusion, and a real crisis of identity. What Luke does is show that the issue is not God’s faithfulness but the narrow ways in which the Gospel had been understood. The focus had been on  church and a narrow understanding of what church meant and how God was at work within that. The parallel is there for us, we are so church focused and have a very narrow understanding of how God is at work.

In our reading the Christians are sent out, told to travel light, accept the hospitality of others stay with them them and discern what the Spirit is doing in the world. Luke goes onto to say that opposition is the norm when the Spirit breaks boundaries of expectations and predictable ways of relating to people. This is challenging stuff for us. Most of us are trying to think of the best seeker-friendly way to get someone to come to something we are offering. This turns everything on its head, – go out into the world, accept off others and stay with them to begin to understand how God is at work in the world.

We have been asking the question ‘how do we get them in? But it was the wrong question. The question we need to be asking is ‘how do we get out?’

Who has been to the Eiffel Tower? When you got to the top did you spend your time focusing on the handrail? No of course not, you looked up and took in the magnificent view of Paris. As Christians, we have been looking at the handrail and it’s time we looked up at the magnificent kingdom of God. God doesn’t want our focus to be on the local church but the growing kingdom of God. We are called to be kingdom growers and the Spirit is already out there and we’re called to join God and make ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ a reality. If you think small, small things will happen. If you think big and trust God big things will happen. The kingdom of God will grow and guess what the local church will be caught up in that growth.

This opens up lots of questions though because our focus has always been on the local church. All of sudden it’s clear this means a radical change in how we understand mission. As churches we often get caught up in ‘millennium dome’ syndrome. If you remember back to the late 90s the thinking was that this great big hugely expensive building was going to be built and the people would come to it because they should. It was built, some people went, but mostly they didn’t and most saw it as one of the greatest wastes of time and money Great Britain has underachieved.  As churches we are often in the same thinking. We’ll put something on, or build a new building believing the people will come because they should. A few people come but mostly they don’t. We don’t always get caught out; sometimes we will do our research properly and see clearly where God wants us to work. That’s good but the danger is that our head will fall and we will begin focusing on the handrail again. Our primary way of thinking about Mission is not thinking God is only present in our building when we’re putting something on, but seeing that God is out in the world and calls us to join him and work with him.

So how do we do this? Firstly everyone can take part; this is not only a leadership or minister’s job.  How many of you can name the first and last names of the people that live two doors down from you? When was the last time you sat down and had a cup of tea with them in their house and listened to what was going on their life? I know that not many of you can answer that positively, so get to know them and feed insights back into church meetings. Also get out into public places and talk to people. Remember, no evangelistic baggage, you’re not trying to bring Jesus into the conversation; you’re trying to listen to people as they are and listen to God. In some conversations the Spirit might be clearly at work. What you don’t ever do is see people as an object of your desire to get them sat here on a Sunday morning. The young mums on the playgrounds, the bus stops, the supermarkets, the coffee shops and then there’s what people are saying on Facebook and Twitter. Listen to people, understand their lives, see where God is already at work.

The channel 4 programme ‘The Secret Millionaire’ is a brilliant template for doing this. Rich people have to give their normal life up, accept the hospitality of others and discern great things going on in often very difficult neighbourhoods. They then discern which they are going to help and are often profoundly changed as people. We need to do the same and at the end of a period of discernment we may offer our help to a certain group of organisation, or maybe that group needs space to do their work and you offer church space and the offer to work with them.

Remember God isn’t only present in something a group of Christians are doing, God has never worked like that, God has always been at work in the world and worked in ordinary people. The Bible is full of such examples of people that were not Jewish or Christian but clearly had God in their lives. King Melchizedech in Genesis, the sailors that threw Jonah overboard, the Wise Men and Cornelius. How about three big names – Noah, Job, and Abraham. They lacked the Scriptures, lacked Jesus, and lacked a community (Israel or the Church) yet they knew God and God worked in them. Even in Jesus family tree there are three women listed who were not Jewish or Christian (Ruth (Naomi’s daughter-in-law) who was a Moabite; Rahab (who helped Joshua’s spies) who was a Canaanite; and Bathsheba (David’s wife) who was a Hittite.

The future of the local church is assured when Christians focus on the Kingdom of God. May you remember that every time you say the Lord’s prayer – ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. That is your outrageous creative challenge for you and the church. It will mean listening to others, seeing that God is indeed at work outside the four walls of the church and then joining God in growing the Kingdom.

Let Your Kingdom Come (Gerard Kelly)

Let it break out like blisters on the skin of this city.
Let it cut to the heart
like cardiac surgery.
Let it create more column inches than Idols and Big Brother.
Let it turn more heads in public than Brooklyn Beckham’s mother.

Let it blow in like a hurricane, like a river, like a fire.
Let it spread like a virus,
like a rumour, like a war.
Like the raising of a curtain, like the roll of a drum,
let it come to us:
let your kingdom come.

Let its landing be more welcomed than the Dalai Lama’s jet.
Let it touch more homes and households than the rise of credit debt.
Let it be prized as a possession like a ball signed by Babe Ruth.
Let it take more liberties with hate than the tabloids take with truth.

Let it hit the road more readily than Eddie Stobart’s trucks.
Let it show up in more suburbs than Blockbuster and Starbucks
Let it overturn more social norms than Marge and Homer’s Bart.
Let it be driven to more victories than Tiger Woods’ golf cart.

Let it blow in like a hurricane, like a river, like a fire.
Let it spread like a virus, like a rumour, like a war.
Like the raising of a curtain, like the roll of a drum,
let it come to us: let your kingdom come.        

Let it sing a softer love song than Chris de Burgh’s red lady.
Let it blast out through more ghettoes than Erninern’s Slim Shady.
Let it win more public plaudits than the acting of Tom Cruise.
Let it hold out hope for longer than Disney’s theme-park queues.

Let it pack more power potential than a phone box with Clark Kent in.
Let it set more captives free than a breakout at San Quentin.
Let it flow into as many lives as water fluoridation.

Let it soak the soil more deeply than Chernobyl’s radiation.
Let it blow in like a hurricane, like a river, like a fire.
Let it spread like a virus, like a rumour, like a war.
Like the raising of a curtain, like the roll of a drum,
let it come to us:
let your kingdom come.

Prayer

Holy God, we pray for the coming of the kingdom every day,
and the doing of your will, but we know your kingdom costs everything.

Your kingdom costs everything –
can we, your friends and followers, spend ourselves with you?

We pray to be involved in bringing about your reign of love,
but do we spend ourselves in love for others?

Your kingdom costs everything –
can we, your friends and followers, spend ourselves with you?

We pray for real peace and harmony in the world,
but in all honesty, are we at peace with all we encounter?

Your kingdom costs everything –
can we, your friends and followers, spend ourselves with you?

We pray for justice and an end to poverty,
but are we ready to pay a fair price for food and goods?

Your kingdom costs everything –
can we, your friends and followers, spend ourselves with you?

We pray to be one with you in heart and mind and soul;
but know we’re a stumbling block to your gospel in so many ways.

Your kingdom costs everything –
can we, your friends and followers, spend ourselves with you?

We pray to speak loving words and keep our focus on you,
but our thoughts and actions turn out wrong, our feet are clay.

Your kingdom costs everything –
can we, your friends and followers, spend ourselves with you?

You call us to put self last and always walk your way,
yet we avoid the painful and take the easy route.
We are truly sorry.
We pray for your forgiveness this day,
and hear again your words of challenge as we commit ourselves to you.

 Jesus said, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves
and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life
will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.’

Thank you, God, for every opportunity to find life in abundance
when we turn again and follow you.

We accept your call to follow upon your way this day,
in the strength of the Spirit of Jesus
and for the sake of your coming kingdom we pray.
Amen.


[1] The opening part is an edited version of a blog post that can be found at:  http://www.ethicsdaily.com/why-creatively-outrageous-churches-will-thrive-cms-19497


Responses

  1. Amen!!! Oh Bless you Mike for sharing this, i want to read it again and again and more importantly be challenged enough to do and go! Bless you all x

    • Thanks Kate. I’m going to bring it to Hill Street later in the year. It’s a message and approach I’ve reflected on a great deal this year and I see it as the future.


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