Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Holy Spirit in Mission by Gary Tyra

In this book, Gary Tyra, a veteran missionary, presents a scholarly work about the relationship between the Holy Spirit and missional faithfulness in the Body of Christ.  He relates Biblical examples, and then describes the characteristics of those who relate with the Holy Spirit in ways that prompt them to speak and act in a missional way. 

This book challenged my theological boxes in a good way.  In the past 6 years on the mission field I have found that God does not operate inside of my theological position. 

Tyra believes that the Holy Spirit "can and must be related to in an interpersonal manner."  He calls all believers, especially "rank and file" Christians to engage in the exciting adventure of asking for prophetic direction in their daily life.  In many places in the world where the church has spread rapidly and exponentially, especially in the Global South, one of the paramount beliefs among the people is that God is living and active in their daily lives.  They have a personal sense of call and responsibility to engage in sharing Christ with their friends, families, and neighbors - and they directly engage the Holy Spirit - asking for words of direction, prayer or service.  Tyra asks - why can't this growth happen in the 'West'?  What paradigm shift is necessary for us to change our relationship with the Holy Spirit and our mission?

Tyra observes that we live in an age of religious relativism.  In direct contrast, prophetic messages demonstrate the power and uniqueness of the God we serve, and result in conversion.  Tyra believes that the essence of the Holy Spirit is truly "missional" - in opposition to those that emphasize only a personal "experience" or blessing.  This encounter with the Holy Spirit, he says, must produce outward-focused action, not only individual experience or blessing.

Tyra believes that Luke's portrayal of the Holy Spirit is primarily missional - based on the books of Luke and Acts - referencing Joel 2:28-29, that believers will all prophesy someday.  He sees Paul's portrayal of the Spirit as primarily soteriological (focused on salvation), but says that the two views are of course compatible.  To quote the book, " must be aknowledged that Luke's message overall seems to be that all Spirit-filled believers possess the capacity, like Ananias, to hear God's voice, receive ministry assignments, speak and act on Christ's behalf, make new disciples, and build up the church, offering a powerful refutation of religious relativism in the process!"

Tyra calls all evangelical believers to allow the Spirit to move them to action or speech that will impact those around us.  He says, "Speaking to myself as well as anyone else: what would happen if more evangelical church members became open to the idea that on any given day the Spirit of God might send them, like Philip, on a special ministry assignment?  How hard is it to say to someone, when appropriate, 'Hey, I could be wrong, but I just have this strong feeling that God wants me to tell you a story?' We might be surprised at how many hearts the Holy Spirit has already prepared for such an encounter."

Tyra recognizes that some believers self-identify as pentecostal-charismatic, and some do not.  Some do not believe that the Holy Spirit 'speaks' today.  He challenges this assumption with examples of prompting and guidance that even the most conservative among us would acknowledge were of the Lord.  He states, "What if the kind of prophetic activity I am describing here - obeying a significantly strong impression to humbly, gently speak and act in the name of the risen Christ really is, at least some of the time the work of  the Holy Spirit?  What kind of missional faithfulness would such a large-scale paradigm shift among evangelicals unleash in the Western world?"

Many of us have judged the idea of prophetic speech and action based on poor examples and abuse of this kind of speech.  We have read stories and heard dogmatic teachers tell us of the evils of this approach.  Tyra calls everyone to examine what Scripture says and to judge appropriately. 

Tyra reminds us that expectency tends to preceed experience.  I also concur that God seems to wait for us to have strong desire for His presence or direction before He gives it.  The stronger our desire, the greater He rewards that desire with specific guidance.  Might our assumption that the Spirit does not act and speak to us personally today hinder us from recognizing His voice?

Tyra challenges us to embrace this paradigm-shift, to embrace a "different way of being a Christian."  He asks us, "What if more evangelical church members were in the habit of taking seriously the promptings produced by the Spirit to speak and act toward those inside and outside the family of believers in loving, equipping ways (see Gal 6:10)?  How many more missionally effective acts of servant-like compassion might be generated?" 

To conclude - it is my personal experience on the mission field that my own talent and speech and efforts produce little without time on my knees.  It is also my experience that when I have felt a prompting to act or speak to someone that I think is of the Lord - it has resulted in fruit, and when I have ignored this prompting - it has been to the detriment of the Gospel. 

It is not the purpose of this blog to lay out my exact theological position, but I will say that this book has challenged me to ask God very directly for more of the Spirit's guidance and direction in my life - and ESPECIALLY in my missional lifestyle.  Perhaps the biggest question for me is not IF He will guide me, but WHEN He does give direction - will I obey?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Non-Evangelism by Carl Medearis

This is a controversial read...and yet I was challenged by it.  Meaderis' book wrestles with the idea of speaking of Jesus versus the (somewhat Western) mentality of event-evangelism: the sharing of our faith and bringing someone to conversion.  He contrasts a lifestyle as a Jesus-follower and the label of "Christian," or "Christianity."  His research and experience shows that people respond positively to Jesus, but negatively toward things labeled "Christian." 

Missiologists have wrestled with this idea for years - and Meaderis' experience living overseas shows how he has wrestled as well.  Put one way, this book is a kind of missiology on witnessing but in popular terminology and writing style.

First - I will review the positives - the things that challenged me.  At the end, I will share a few concerns. 

The strength of Medearis is his simplicity: bringing us back to JESUS, not religion.  As a missiologist might say when bringing the message of Jesus to another land:  bring the seed, not the whole tree.  Medearis nails this.  Leave the doctrinal explanations at home - stick to Jesus.

"The gospel is not a what. It is not a how. The gospel is a Who. The gospel is literally the good news of Jesus. Jesus is the gospel. ...E. Stanley Jones continues this thought in his book The Christ of the Indian Road: “The sheer storm and stress of things had driven me to a place that I could hold. Then I saw that there is where I should have been all the time. I saw that the gospel lies in the person of Jesus, that he himself is the Good News, that my one task was to live and to present him. My task was simplified.”"
In the West, we suffer from what one might call "control-freak Christianity" - our attempt to understand, explain and systematize all things of our faith - and then we err by trying to be sure anyone who wants to 'join our Christian club' understands all of those points too.  Meadearis reminds us, "Are we saved by our brains or our hearts?"  In other words, when we look at the life of Jesus - He did not explain all points of doctrine or 'make converts' - He simply invited people to follow Him.  That true discipleship changed them. 

Meadearis reminds us that Jesus was hardest on those who were religious, not those who were messy.  He was attracted to those who could acknowledge their need.  Medearis regularly asks those he is sharing with whom Jesus might prefer to 'hang out with' - and when the individual assumes its Medearis - he corrects them quickly.  "Jesus would go home with you," he says. 

One of the author's favorite hang-outs was a coffee shop/book store where some of the most "un-christianized" people in Colorado Springs hang out.  He asks - if Jesus were here today, where would HE hang out?  right here.  I agree wholeheartedly.  Jesus would not visit our mega-churches.  He would most likely be visiting bars on Christopher Street, or speaking words of hope in South-East Asia's slums and brothels.

When I personally read the words of Jesus - I often feel as though I fall so far short.  Jesus' rebuke of the Pharisees often describes me so much more often than His words to the ill or the outcast: Medearis says it this way:  "Perhaps … those who think they’re “in” or that they know the way or have the truth need a bit of shaking. Legalism is the enemy of Jesus. soon as our attitudes shift from a humble “knowing” of Jesus to a know-it-all type of arrogance, we’re toast. We will be on the rebuking end of Jesus’ words."
Meadearis calls believers to simplify their idea of 'witnessing' - to love and listen to people, speak freely and often and boldly of Jesus and how He has changed your life.  Stop the Christianese and the endless explanations.  Let people be attracted to the Person of Jesus and begin to follow Him. YES.
I agreed with most of what Medearis has to say.  My one word of caution is that Medearis focuses almost completely on the beginning of walking with Jesus - on sharing with the lost and seeing them come to a place of discipleship of Jesus.  He does not address what brings believers to maturity - nor is it the purpose of his book.  There is a place and a need for solid doctrine.  Sometimes - we can develop a sort of reverse-pharisaism that sounds uber-spiritual because we choose to toss out the extras and "just keep Jesus."  Meaderis borders on this attitude - at least that is my perception. 
My other word of caution is that Jesus is the Gospel - and so we must not forget the completeness of the Gospel and the urgency of sharing this good news.  Yes, Jesus personifies the Gospel - but one cannot understand the power of that Gospel without grasping God's standards and laws and the price to be paid for sin that was spelled out in the Old Testament. 
My take-away application from this book is to speak loudly, boldly, freely, and lovingly of JESUS and how He has changed my life.  I love the idea of "leaving breadcrumbs" for Jesus - toss them out and see who picks them up and says - I want more! 
Yet - I find that one of the most effective forms of evangelism is to take those who respond to the "taste" of Jesus that was offered: and bring them into a small group study that begins in the Old Testament and works through key passages until the Person of Jesus is discovered by the participants.  Engaging the Word of God directly and personally changes people, and often - brings people to repentance and into the arms of Jesus. 
Well...this was a long blog post.  I read this book in about one day.  Its not a hard read.  It will challenge you and step on your toes - but its worth reading.  

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Kings Cross - by Tim Keller

There is never enough space on this blog to capture the fullness of some of the best books that I have read.  That is true now. 

The Kings Cross captures the Gospel story by going page by page through the book of Mark, giving not only the message of salvation - but an example of a life lived that gloried in service, and exalted in self-sacrifice.  Below are some of my favorite nuggets - and I will comment on how they impacted me. 

"...there are two ways to fail to let Jesus be your Savior. One is by being too proud, having a superiority complex—not to accept his challenge. But the other is through an inferiority complex—being so self-absorbed that you say, “I’m just so awful that God couldn’t love me.” That is, not to accept his offer."
Whether you struggle with superiority or inferiority- Jesus extends His offer of salvation to all. 
"There’s something else Mark wants his readers to think about. Isaiah says the Messiah will come to save us “with divine retribution.” But Jesus isn’t smiting people. He’s not taking out his sword. He’s not taking power; he’s giving it away. He’s not taking over the world; he’s serving it. Where’s the divine retribution? And the answer is, he didn’t come to bring divine retribution; he came to bear it. On the cross, Jesus would identify with us totally. On the cross, the Child of God was thrown away, cast away from the table without a crumb, so that those of us who are not children of God could be adopted and brought in. Put another way, the Child had to become a dog so that we could become sons and daughters at the table....Don’t be too isolated to think you are beyond healing. Don’t be too proud to accept what the gospel says about your unworthiness. Don’t be too despondent to accept what the gospel says about how loved you are."
The idea of the sacrifice of Jesus grows deeper and deeper throughout this book - defining not only our salvation story, but also the way in which we ought to live it out with one another.  Taking pain and rejection onto onself, 'eating' the pain and struggle - so that another might be free and full of joy. 
"But here is Jesus saying, “Yes, I’m the Messiah, the King, but I came not to live but to die. I’m not here to take power but to lose it; I’m here not to rule but to serve. And that’s how I’m going to defeat evil and put everything right.”...Jesus didn’t take power; he gave it up—and yet he triumphed. On the cross, then, the world’s misuse and glorification of power was exposed for what it is and defeated. The spell of the world’s systems was broken."
Keller repeats this theme in the book:  "All real, life-changing love is substitutionary sacrifice." 
When I hear stories of radical change, radical community-sweeping change: it doesn't revolve around a great preacher or powerful person or a strategic method: It revolves around a person who has been so captured by God, is so in love with Jesus, and so absolutely filled with the Spirit that he/she gives themselves away completely - meaning the loss of self, power, reputation, status, and more.  This is radical, life-changing SUBSTITUTIONARY SACRIFICE - that is only sustainable in our lives because Someone Else has done it on our behalf first. 
"Jesus says, 'My power is always moving away from people who love power and money. My power is always moving toward people who are giving it away, as I did. Where do you want to live?'"
The biggest impact of this book on my life was a renewed and deepened determination to submit with every ounce of my being to His glorious redemption in my life.  As one person put it, to be "thoroughly converted."  To open up the areas where pride and selfishness continue to control me, and to invite the Spirit in to 'clean house' and continually change me.
"Submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown.." - C.S. Lewis...quoted by Keller in this book