Good, better, best.

[This is part 3 of a 5 part series on seeing God’s glory across the nations.  Please bear with me on this one, as it’s thoughts in process – feedback welcome!]

Choice is paralysis.

They told me we were a fortunate generation to have the world as our oyster.  They told me we should be grateful for being able to re-train and learn any occupation in a few years and do what we love.  They told me that we’d be able to travel the world and find others with similar interests and passions.  They told me we’d be able to spend our lifetime exploring the rich diversity of personalities, cultures, countries and languages on this earth.  But they didn’t tell me this.

Choice is paralysis.

And I find myself part of a generation who have so much at their fingertips, we have nothing.  Because we can’t decide what we want.

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The green fields and castles of Munster, on a summer day in Ireland (copyright me)

We come back from our travels, and we’re so taken by dreaming of the next one, that we struggle to fit in.  And the freedom and exhilaration of new things, new cultures and new people, gnaw away at us when we’re back to brass tacks, sitting at the office desk, wondering when we can next escape.  Perhaps we’re in the wrong job?  Should we change again?  But the last one felt like chains too…and I thought this one was more “me”.  And so I’m left wondering whether the next pay cheque really needs to go on car insurance, or whether we can abandon the car in a bid to travel the road even further.

So many places.  So many experiences.  So much on the bucket list.  So little time.

Choice can be paralysing!

And for the Christian it often is no different.  Just because we have the Holy Spirit, doesn’t mean that life becomes easy or that the golden path is suddenly there.  The Bible doesn’t promise a soul-mate.  The Bible doesn’t promise to outline what country you should live in.  The Bible doesn’t even give a ranking list of professions either.  In fact, the Bible doesn’t even promise you an easy ride this side of eternity – far from it!

But what Jesus does do, is to let us know that He is Lord over everything, and that we can serve Him in the vast array of different giftings, cultures and personalities that we all have.  How freeing!

So no need to try and endlessly interpret whether one door is closing or opening.  No need to wait on someone to come along and confirm your life calling.  No need to wait til all the circumstances perfectly line up in your life for something.  No need to mysteriously open your Bible at a verse that matches the numbers on the car number plate that you’re following at the time.  That’s often more superstition than Jesus.

BUT…

There are certain things Jesus would say we should bear in mind: 

 

  1. Things the Church should do/be (eg. The bride of Christ…individuals cannot fulfil this role)
  2. Things individuals should do/be (eg. a part of the body)
  3. Things Christians with certain gifts can do/be (eg. Evangelists or speakers of tongues – neither are for everyone)
  4. Things mostly all Christians can do/be (eg. “be my witnesses” – we’re all called to this)
Infographic blog Mission

My work in progress – sorry to those who don’t think like this!

1+2+3+4: Many things, like putting our hope in God’s Word.

1+2: Sins of omission: Many things where the Church and individuals ought to do something or be something but don’t/aren’t

3 alone (eg: using tongues in private or chatting to lots of lonely people) or

4 alone (eg: wearing a cross at work or being kind to everyone) or

(3+4) : (eg: telling someone they ought to be kinder)

Some gifted people use their gifts outside of formal church context and outside of where they’re called specifically to use their gifts.  Consciously this happens for example, in the business world or anywhere we work.  Unconsciously, this happens ALOT, when people think they’re using gospel gifts, and are actually just acting culturally rather than Biblically.

1+3: eg. Go to unengaged peoples (this is a unique subset of certain gifts which individuals within the Church need to act on)

2+4: eg. Partner to help reach some of the unengaged peoples (this is what everyone else is required to do as individuals, to have God’s heart for unengaged peoples)

Why go to this length with an infographic (that is far from perfect)?

Well, what I think this shows us, is that everyone can sit back as individuals, in a highly individualised church scene, and confidently say that they don’t feel called to unengaged peoples.  And to some extents they may all be able to justify their decision making in highly logical, Biblically good and God glorifying ways.  And no-one would go.  Ever.  And this is what I would argue has happened for centuries of church history (with notable exceptions).

Who would be to blame?

Well, it’s hard to say, isn’t it?

No single individual could be held responsible.

No single church could be expected to guarantee folk to go to the unengaged world.

Even no single denomination necessarily should be held responsible Biblically speaking.

But the Church at large is not doing what it ought to do: making disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that Jesus has commanded us.

We’ll look at a collective response to this in due course, and what this means for churches.  But for now let me suggest one thing for us as individual Christians: that we cannot afford to give ourselves the luxury of thinking that others will go and that we are not the ones to go.

When I speak to most people with obvious gifts of evangelism in the church, they don’t think they have such a gift!  Because to acknowledge it would be daunting, and to them, it’s just God’s gracious provision in giving them opportunities to speak a word in season (in their weakness).  It doesn’t seem like it’s for them.

And similarly with going to the unengaged.  Please, please do not wait for an angel from Heaven to tell you to pursue opportunities to see whether you could go.  Jesus has already told the Church to pursue those opportunities.

Perhaps rather, I’d ask you to pray over, and be asking yourself this question:

Why should I not go to the unengaged world?

You’d be surprised like Moses in Exodus chapter 3, with how many reasons God can answer!

  • Feel too weak? Good, God is with you.
  • Feel too sinful? Good, God has a history of using such folk who realise their sin.
  • Feel you need to get married to someone who isn’t willing to ask the same questions? You could marry someone who would keep the possibility real, instead of closing doors unduly.
  • Feel you don’t have the right gifts? I’ve seen virtually every type of person on the field!
  • Feel you’re indispensable to the church at home? Perhaps God can show you, you’re not.
  • Feel like you’ve a great career ahead of you and don’t want to throw it away? Do something career related in your unengaged people, but primarily, weigh up in your heart what Christ is worth.
  • Don’t think you’re an evangelist? Good – teams need all sorts.
  • Don’t want the responsibility of intentionally giving years of your life to working towards the unengaged world? Christ is worth it!

And so I’ll pray this evening that you join me in praying that question, regardless of your age.  There are enough really genuine reasons that will stop you going without adding. any of the above to them!

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Double Listening

“The phrase ‘double listening’ has always been significant to me. And it means that we’re called to listen to both the Word of God, and to today’s world, in order to relate the one to the other.”

John Stott (following on from Karl Barth and many others, I’m told)

I think it’s been one of the most influential concepts to me in life, having the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other.  Regardless of what worldview I followed, I’d want one that gave time to understanding the world and those around me.  More on it here.

Girlfriends, travel, housing and winks across the dancefloor

So since moving to Cork I’ve had about 13 housemates.  Unlucky?  Having lived with me, I think they all probably thought they were, yes.  Moving in to the house, I remember being asked whether I wanted to move in to the spare room, or switch to the big ensuite room.  For a little extra cost, I fancied a room longterm that I could make my own, so opted for the big one.  So far, so good.

  1. The chap who left the small room, went off to get married.
  2. The following chap to step into that small room was a graduate entry medic.  At the end of our year together, he left, to get married (he wasn’t engaged before being in that room).
  3. The guy who replaced him was another graduate entry medic (yes, I’ve had free health service, even in Ireland), who, you guessed it, left after six months to live with his newly married wife.
  4. For one year after that, an Iranian researcher who, during his time living here, found the love of his life and then left to marry her and live elsewhere.
  5. After that came a Brazilian friend who had nervously started going out with a girl.  I went to his wedding a few months ago.
  6. And finally??  An Irishman now living in that room, has indeed completed the current tally and is about to get married this summer.

Assuming I would want to get married, it could be that this is a divine rebuke for my selfish and materialistic grab for the large room, when I could have given others it.  And in a highly superstitious Irish culture, perhaps many may chuckle and read into it exactly that.

I chuckle but don’t.  Coincidence, I reckon.

But then one night I’m travelling from Waterford to Limerick around dusk.  Three quarters of the way there I stop to pull over a hitchhiker by a farm in a rural village.  Flowing ginger beard and a waft of ginger hair, he looks like a proper Irish stereotype, around studenty age.  His first question determines where I’m going and his second is:

“What is a Christian?”

Slightly stunned at such a question, given there is nothing in my car to suggest I would know, and given that everyone in Ireland reckons they’re Christian so doesn’t ask, I stumbled to ask him why he asked that.  “You’ve a northern accent.  You must know.  I mean protestant and catholic and all that.  Y’know?”

But as I was sure he’d met many a northerner before, I persisted.  “But what raises the question?”

Turns out he’d been travelling round the world a year and had ended up in Hawaii.  So beautiful was the experience with the community they’d met there, he decided to stay on and get to know them.  Time was running out but he wanted what they had!  So they said to him “look, we run this summer volunteer thing in Haiti this year – you should go and find us there.  Go home and raise funds and we’ll see you out there!”

And so he had done.  His family thought he’d met a cult.  “I know they said they were Christians, but that can mean anything from those born-agains to cults” they said.  “Stay clear of it”.  And so it got him thinking, “what is a Christian?”.  And so he asked the next person who he met, who happened to be me driving along.  4 minutes later and we’d reached his brother’s house and he jumped out.  All that we’d established was that the group were Youth With A Mission, that he should trust them and go, and that in the meantime he should read his Bible to see what produces this genuine faith, unlike all he’d met before.  With that, he walked off into the dark, slamming the car door behind, after briefly asking my name.

Coincidence?

To stereotype:

  • The atheist would presumably say yes, that anyone could have driven along that road.
  • The agnostic may want to remain curious but ask us to treat both cases the same.
  • The conservative (perhaps cessationist) would declare it to be the providence of God using promised means (humans).
  • And the more charismatically inclined may lean towards declaring it something more spiritual.

Perhaps I can answer some other time, but here are some questions it raises for me:

  • For those sceptical: what are the chances of these happening?  My suggestion is that the latter is far more unlikely (the former occurs as males of my age in conservative cultures tend to all pair off and get married), given how few evangelical Christians are in rural Ireland.  Maybe add into it, the fact that tens of these coincidences seem to happen regularly to me, it makes it harder to explain, but not impossible, perhaps!
  • For those keen to call it a God thing: if we are to call the latter an act of God (using human means), would we call the awful things that happen in this world also a carefully planned act of God, or is He not in control of those?  Perhaps on a basic level: this may help.  But I’m not convinced there’s any easy, neat answers, philosophically and theologically (though I may come back to this).

In the meantime for the Christian I found Kevin De Young’s book a bargain and worth reading.  And for those more sceptical still, why not ask (the-potentially-imaginary-being-in-the-sky) him to reveal himself to you?  Or start by looking where he promises to do so?  Right here: Uncover: see for yourself.  I don’t trust on any of those coincidence-like experiences to tell me about God primarily.  That’d be like depending on winks across a crowded dancefloor to tell you whether a girl actually likes you or not.  It sometimes thrills my heart and gives me butterflies.  But ultimately, I’d wanna know…like, for real.
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