Friday, December 25, 2009

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Thoughts on "Transformed by the Gospel"

Some thoughts about being “transformed” by the Power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Just a few days ago, again I saw these titles to 5 lectures / sermons / presentations in one of the great nations of Europe.
Transforming Mission
Transformed Leaders
Transformed Churches
Transformed Cities
Transformed Nations

These keynote messages were interspersed with the normal seminars on the most varied issues that are in the forefront of the evangelical minds today. But it was the issue of the titles that, more than anything, captured my attention. The issue at the core of the thought process is the fact of that the All-Powerful God, the Salvific gift of Jesus, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit is All-Powerful in transforming, transforming everything from the least to the most. The impact of this Gospel is felt all over. But is it? Is countries really “better” when there is an overwhelming presence believers?

My concern is not so much with the Transforming Power of the Gospel. This I believe in, have seen it and experience it every day in our lives and in the work. The issue that comes to my mind is that either this transformation is very temporary, may I say “fleeting” or . . . something is missing. I would like to revert to the second. I believe that something seems to be missing. Let’s take a quick look at the reverse of the list. Lets start with Nations, go the Cities and Churches, etc. After all these years of Gospel impact in some nations (take any for that matter), and look at the reality. Look at the corruption in the African nations such as Congo, that has a fairly high percentage of Christians (evangelical or otherwise), Zimbabwe, Latin American nations such as Guatemala, Chile, Brazil, etc., and I could go on. In one of these countries government offices are “full of” evangelical, but according to one local believer when told that this was such a good statistic, he indicated that the problem is that once in office, or even before already, the corruption among the evangelicals is the same as those that claim no serious faith commitments. To this believer there was no difference in voting for an evangelical or a “pagan.” Actually he brought up the age old problem of the believer (or even the church) getting into bed with a political system. Look at the evangelical church in the US and it’s major headache in trying to define itself apart from the system. “Somehow” it got sucked into the system and now the lines are so blurred that, at least from the outside looking in, one does not really know who call the shots in the church. We seem to have gotten ourselves into a quagmired quandary. In the former Soviet Union “we” always knew the good guys from the bad guys, somehow we don’t apply the same criteria on ourselves in the West. This Barna guy keeps coming up with studies that indicate that there seems to be very little, if any, difference in behavior, morals, and in many cases the issues of abortion and cheating on taxes, divorce, etc. between the evangelical believer and the “non” believer.

But back to my issue of the day: Does the Gospel Transform or do speakers and missiologist just use it as a nice sequence of titles. I have seen such exaggerations (my mother would call them lies) by great men and women as to how nations have been transformed, and yet, the corruption, the killings, the ethnic cleansing, the economic rapings, the total disregard to the environment, etc continue, or in some cases even get worse. I do believe that a key ingredient is missing in our understanding and communication of the Gospel. I want to believe that the Gospel of Jesus is all transforming, but . . .

I would even place the church (churches) in the above category. The larger the churches the more there seems to be a chasing after “something” that doesn’t seem to be there. How many churches have I seen in my short life be willing to throw out core values and Biblical “prescriptions” just in order to keep a leader that has totally messed up. To the point where I heard of one church where the members / adherents knew that the leader was living in sin, yet said that they “liked” so much what the leader had to say that they did not care whether he lived in sin or not. Reminds me of European politicians - - - where I heard, just a few days ago, from a French commentator explain to a North American audience that “the French people want a leader that has extramarital affairs, as that shows that he / she has power.” North Americans particularly evangelicals are appalled at this, but what do we do in our own churches? . . . The true Power of the Transforming Gospel gets watered-down to such a level that it looses its “Power.”

I did not touch the issue of transformed cities, but to me it seems it’s only to make the sequence of messages sound good. Making and acrostic or forcing all points to start with the same letter, well, I probably have done this enough times in my life.

But the issue remains. Mission leaders and missiologist fly around the World from church to church, from city to city, from conference to conference, form seminar to seminar pushing these concepts, without hardly any checks and balances. The more they get invited, the more famous they are, the better their ideas must be. And the more books they have to write. We have moved into a very dangerous territory in our current mission situation. In many situations our mission programs are driven by individuals who can sell ideas, but have no actual field experience. Mission is driven by what sells at home, and very little by what is needed on field. Currently missions is experience driven and not need driven. Let me explain in a few words. If the home (sending) church has a good experience with a missions project or a missionary it will continue to send and give, if not, . . . poor project, or missionary on the field, it is out in the cold. What sells in the church is a good missions project, what does not sell, is not a good project. What strikes me so often is that a number of the speakers on the missionfest traveling circuit have never been on the field. (Sorry I don’t count short term projects - - - as one great missiologist once said, short term missions is like dating and long term is a marriage - - - and he was a leader of a large short term mission organization.) There is a well known circuit speaker, he has written books, good ones, has “formulas” on how to do and succeed in mission and on the mission field, but has never been on the field. Who knows you have heard him and even enjoyed his challenge. I do like some of his ideas, and would love to have a lengthy coffe with him. ( I would invite him to our Saturday Morning Coffee Free For All discussions) But my concern is that we are driven by theory, and in many cases not be the reality of the needs on the field. Most of us missionaries are not willing to face these issue head on, or as I was told by one large church some years ago only to report positive things. (sell, sell, sell!!!)

I remember sitting in the office of one such who had just returned from a week at a local Bible School (Canada, yeah, I’ve been to that great country and love it) who gave me a 20 minute lecture on how to do evangelism and church planting in Portugal; he who had never been to Portugal, had never started a church anywhere, had been an admin and large church pastor all his life.

A little off the subject, but there is a relationship between the two issues, lack of transformation and misguided missiological concepts. There are such disconnects and that is, at least from my perspective, one of the problems. People that have never really gone there, tell us how we should go. These individuals I even believe are called to do what they do. In many cases they are great facilitators for those of us on the field. The problem is when we expect them to be the experts and than comes the day where they think of themselves as experts, whereas we should have encouraged them in their calling of facilitating.

So does the Gospel of Jesus transform? You betcha! (to my non-North American friends this means: YES!) I think the biggest problem is that we apply a worldly understanding of values, instead of trying to find God’s way of looking at things. We take our cue form the World around us. Currently the World is result driven so we look at results; the bottom line. BUT! God calls us to obedience. The bottom line is not how many (conversions, baptisms, churches, or even people fed and clothed), but how deeply you and I are obedient to the Lord. To us numeric results are paramount, . . . and who talks about obedience? Yet in looking at Scripture, I find that obedience is the issue that we should be about, and results are in the hands of God Almighty. Are we willing to allow our World View be Transformed? Maybe that should be one of the main concerns. Once our World View is transformed more and more by God, who knows how we will view World Transformation. . . . Something about not being conformed to this World, but being transformed by the power of the Gospel. How far do we allow this text to grab a hold of us?

So, before we try to “Transform the World” let me suggest that we allow the Power of the Gospel to “Transform our Mind” (our World View).