What Comes Next? This is the question I keep asking myself as we near the end of this pandemic. I’m not the only one. There are political, social, and financial implications that have many sectors scrambling to anticipate the future. Much ink has been spilled already in potential answers.
Followers of Jesus have extra motivation for prayerful discernment about what comes next. We are always interested in where God is moving and how we can join Him. I have no doubt that God has incredible plans for our community, our nation, and our world, and that 2020 was not wasted time for Him.
While I cannot predict the future, a few guiding principles shape my thinking.
There is nothing new under the sun.
This is the constant refrain in the book of Ecclesiastes. While things may appear new, they are only new to us. If you pay careful attention, a prominent design pattern of the Bible is the repetition of themes and motifs, especially human sin and depravity. From the family dysfunction that follows Abraham and Sarah through their children and grandchildren, to the cycles of idolatry, rebellion, oppression, and deliverance in the book of Judges, the Bible is always echoing itself. From God’s point of view, there is really nothing new about human behavior or the brokenness of the world. What will that mean for our future? I’m not sure. Some, like Andy Crouch, are predicting a repeat of the roaring 20s with social conditions that created the depressed 30s. It makes sense, but only God knows at this point. Whatever comes next, it may feel new, but it really is not. One of our previous pastoral residents, Kristen Brown, who now teaches at Northeastern Seminary, put it well in a recent talk: “…we live in precedented times…” From a biblical point of view, I think she is spot on. There is nothing new under the sun.
There will be loss.
Even though there is nothing new under the sun, we still feel the changes from what was to what is, and that is always accompanied by loss. That is part of the nature of change. When the Jews, under the leadership of Zerubbabel, return to Israel from exile in Babylon, rebuild the Temple and begin to worship, the older generation weeps as they remember the glory of Solomon’s version (Ezra 3:12-13). That glory would never come again, at least not like that.
We know that a better Temple was coming (Jesus!), but there was still an experience of real loss, and we should anticipate that loss. Personally, I find myself praying often about the church. What will happen to attendance and participation after a year of quarantining and more online options than we could ever dream of? How will the church heal from a year of division in our country and even among fellow believers? I don’t have these answers, but I anticipate that we will feel a sense of loss and grief, even as we begin to return to “normalcy.” That’s okay, and it is often a part of how God works.
There will be gospel opportunities.
In the book of Acts, when the church experienced persecution in Jerusalem for the first time, believers began to scatter across the region. Without realizing it, the cataclysm of oppression launched the Gentile mission that is still happening today. If we sense some doors are closing, we can be sure God is opening others. At Christ Community, I can tell you that our online presence is bigger, faster, and stronger than ever. The internet, while containing threats to the gospel, also presents a new “Roman road” by which to share Jesus. God is working there.
Christianity looks weirder and weirder to our surrounding western culture, and the data tells us that many who were only nominally participating in church before the pandemic will likely never return. That’s hard. But remember, God famously whittles down Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300 before rescuing Israel from Midian, reminding us that He often does His best work when we feel at the end of our rope. Our faith is only going to stand out more and more, even if our numbers and influence may appear to diminish. My sense is that God sees that as a strength, not a weakness. What opportunities is He opening in our lives for greater witness and service to neighbors?
What do you think? These are just my thoughts. What about you? I really want to know! Leave your comments here around how things might change, and what doors God may be opening. We can’t predict the future, but we can be faithful and prayerful in anticipation of what comes next. God is ready. Let’s be ready to move with Him!
For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10)
Few words come with as much comfort as Jesus’ clarity here as to why He came to us. Some scholars even believe this is the central statement of the Gospel account of Luke and Jesus’ mission.
As comforting as that statement is, a crucial question hangs in the air: what does it mean to be saved by Jesus?
The answer to such a question informs what kind of King Jesus is, the kind of Gospel (Luke 8:1) He came bringing and proclaiming, and the kind of implications His Kingdom reign mediates. The answer to this question impacts how we see every bit of our new life now because of Jesus and our promised everlasting life into eternity with Jesus. Ultimately the answer does not inform what it means to be a mature Christian, an elder or a leader in the faith. Rather, the answer informs what it does mean to be a Christian.
Because of the weight of such a question, this is where we may be tempted to do a bit of textual hopscotch jumping around the New Testament everywhere the word “saved” appears in a concordance. In so doing we seek to string together a series of one verse statements to come up with a broader answer to our question.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for this central statement of Jesus in Luke 19 to be taken out of its context, and as theologian, Dr. D.A. Carson would often remind me and my fellow seminarians in class: “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.” Dr. Carson’s wordplay highlights how we can take a text out of its context and then easily import our own meaning. This is how one can support various ideologies whether completely heretical or theologically incomplete.
Therefore, the best way to navigate what any text means is to look first at its context. So first, one must ask “what does salvation mean here?”
What does salvation mean here?
Luke’s Gospel Account. In the context of holy Scripture, we find ourselves firmly situated in the Gospel of Luke, wherein Luke has sought to bring an orderly and reliable account of who Jesus is and what He came to do (Luke 1:3) .
In chapter 1, Luke sets out that this Jesus is not merely an astounding leader popping up disconnected from history. Rather, this Jesus is the promised Son of David, the Messiah (Hebrew), the Christ (Greek). He is the King who God promised years before would sit on a throne in a Kingdom that would know no end (Luke 1:32-33).
Therefore it’s no surprise that when we find Jesus declaring the Gospel (translated “good news” in many translations) He both proclaims and brings the gospel of the Kingdom. Throughout the whole of Luke we are asking what kind of King is Jesus and what kind of Kingdom is He bringing to save us from the oppression and brokenness of our world.
The title, “Son of Man,” that Jesus uses to signify His identity both here in Luke 19:10, and throughout Luke’s account, is another one of those many messianic titles (Daniel 7:13-14) that sparks interest in Jesus’ royal identity while simultaneously not allowing the listener to place their messianic ideology on Him. A lot of expectations were swirling in the first century as to what kind of messiah would finally deliver Israel.
When Jesus engages people in the narratives, these are not isolated incidents. He is ushering in His salvation and defining His reign one story at a time. One such space where this happens is with the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus’ Encounter. In Luke 19, we find an interesting dynamic in which Zacchaeus is clearly on the lookout for Jesus, but surprisingly Jesus is also looking for Zacchaeus. It is surprising because Zacchaeus’ status is that of an internal oppressor and betrayer of his own people. Then in a strange turn of events, when a “house” was more than just a home, Jesus invites himself over for dinner.
One’s house in the ancient Near East was an economic center, a place that situated one’s honor (or shame), and might actually be made of various homes of various families and servants. Jesus was the highly honored Messiah and Zacchaeus the scorn of Israel, and yet Jesus bestows honor on Zacchaeus that he did not deserve.
In many ways, the story of the rich ruler earlier in Luke 18 looms over this story. When the rich ruler engages Jesus he’s unwilling to give Jesus the final word over every aspect of his life including family and wealth. Will Zacchaeus be like the rich ruler? Will he be more tethered to his wealth or to Jesus? The tension is thick.
Then — without clear directive from Jesus — Zacchaeus offers to give half of his wealth to the poor and provide above and beyond reparations to those he’s swindled. What we may miss is how Jesus not dictating the response of Zacchaeus is important for his standing in the community.
King Jesus extends honor graciously. It therefore allows space for Zacchaeus to respond on his own initiative to the gracious honor bestowed upon him by Jesus, which in turn sets the stage for Zacchaeus’ reconciliation to the community.
It is only then that Jesus says (and the order of the narrative is important), “Today, salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9).
There’s that word “house” again. Salvation has not just come to Zacchaeus otherwise that is what Luke would have recorded. But that is not what Jesus sought to communicate. As we follow the text we read that salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house. It has impacted his person, his economics, the community’s economics (those who experienced theft were restored), and even his communal belonging. Within a contextual reading of Luke 19:10, we quickly come to understand that Jesus’ salvation involves more than just our ethereal souls.
For King Jesus, when His salvation breaks in He not only saves us from our broken past, He also saves us for new life which encompasses our personal, spiritual, communal and financial outworkings of everyday life both now and into eternity.
This is a deeply biblical framework for salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. But is that how we often think of salvation?
If when we say “I’m saved” we only mean our souls and not the radically reoriented whole life of repentance and reconciliation, then we’ve left Jesus’ thought of salvation incomplete.
Someone then may say, “But in Romans 10:9, I read, ‘…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’” Of course we must detail out what “heart” means in Scripture, what belief means in Scripture, which is more than just mental assent, and how the declaration that “Jesus is Lord” has lordship implications. For what is Jesus not Lord over? What was the overall argument Paul was making in Romans? Once again: context, context, context.
If this robust nature of salvation is in view here and has implications across Scripture, how is it that this view of salvation is foreign to so many of us?
Salvation as a Bridge
As I grew up in the church, I often saw an illustration that was meant to communicate how Jesus came to save me. It is both helpful, but also incomplete.
I grew up hearing that I am on one side of a great canyon too large to cross on my own. The reason I stood on one side of the canyon was due to my sin. On the other side of this impassable canyon was God. He stood there because of his holiness and perfection. No matter how many good things I did, I could not cross the canyon.
So — as the illustration displays — when Jesus died to save me from my sins on the cross, if I trust in Him and His sufficient work on the cross, I am able to be saved. My sins were forgiven because of Jesus’ death in my place, and Jesus’ work on the cross on my behalf was the bridge to reconciliation with God.
The result of my salvation is that I get to spend eternity with God in heaven. Period.
Growing up if someone asked me, “Are you saved?” They meant this kind of salvation.
Now, that is good news, and it is a crucial part of the good news. But, as we saw with Zacchaeus, that is not all the salvation that Jesus came to bring.
Saved from Other… Saved Folk.
For starters, Jesus came not only to save “me” but to save “us.” The image above shows a picture of an individual and God, which can easily (even if not intentionally) communicate that the salvation Jesus has come to bring is now a “me and Jesus” life and community is “optional.”
As the old saying goes, “What you win people with, you win them to.” In the midst of our individualizing salvation, is it any wonder that Christians on a massive scale erroneously believe they can plumb the depths of their salvation in isolation from a church community and actually be closer to Christ?
This is a serious concern because we have made a crucial component of salvation the exclusive summary of salvation, and the outcome is a salvation without a church. Maybe a more snarky way to put it is a misunderstanding of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone through an individualized lens has led some to be all alone.
We need a more biblical picture of salvation.
A Better Picture of Salvation
In Amy Sherman’s Kingdom Calling she offers a more biblical illustration to mine the depths of the salvation Jesus came to bring in His Kingdom. She shares this graph from Intervarsity leader James Choung to guide us in a better way.
First, we see we are damaged by evil and sin (upper right circles). Sin we have committed and sin that has been committed against us. We see it, feel it, and long for it to be made right. (Which if you are talking with someone who is not a follower of Jesus, this as a starting point builds common ground to share the gospel). But the difference is in how this image communicates the broader breakdown of God’s world. Our sin and evil not only separates us from God, but also from each other, creates fragmentation within ourselves, and cultivates a distortion of creation and our call to care for God’s world.
When Jesus came (bottom right circles), He came to restore the good we were designed for in the beginning (upper left circles) which encompasses all aspects of life. Is there reconciliation with God on a personal level? Yes! But there is also reconciliation with others, with broader creation, and yes, even within ourselves.
And that isn’t the end. We are not just saved from evil but for good (bottom left circles)! We have been saved as a community of believers to be agents of reconciliation this world over. The church is a redemptive community on mission together.
In the words of James Choung, “Jesus enticed people into a kingdom mission from the outset.”
This is what salvation in Jesus means. This is the salvation Jesus came to bring. This is King Jesus’ Kingdom agenda to reconcile all things to Himself (Colossians 1:20). This is what Jesus means when He says salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house.
And rather than robbing us of our personal relationship with Christ, it adds another level of comfort to the astounding claim of Jesus that He came to seek and save the lost in a robust way.
Are we willing to be saved like this?
Now the question becomes frankly a question that is posed to people who approach Jesus in the gospels again and again: are we willing to be saved like this? Will we let Jesus’ grace reorient everything, or nothing? Will we embrace this kind of Kingdom and this kind of King?
Because Jesus wants all of us to be saved, not just parts of us. He wants all the broken, mangled, and messed up areas of our lives both personally and corporately as a church, and He longs to save.
And He will take any of us as long as He can have every part of us. That’s the beauty of Zacchaeus’ story too. Jesus sought the worst and His grace led to whole-life repentance and salvation.
Will we let Him save us like that?
If we do, we won’t just be waiting for heaven to come one day, but will experience the reign of Christ in the everyday. We won’t just know a deeper joy within ourselves in our personal private disciplines, but also experience a greater depth of joy with one another. We will see the reconciliation that Paul was zealous about within the church, the poor and vulnerable who James was concerned for would be cared for within the church, and those with great power, wealth and status, like Zacchaeus, would go to great lengths to leverage their power to make their communities more whole.
On top of all that, we will see a whole host of people who don’t know Jesus and are uninterested in a salvation of disembodied souls, finally hear and see all that Jesus has come to bring and proclaim in His Kingdom. We will finally see more Zacchaeuses’ come to know and trust Jesus and more Jerichos (Luke 19:1, 8) experience restoration through repentance.
And in the end, that is good news for one’s soul.
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For Further Study:
Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good by Amy Shermon. The chapter of note above is How the Gospel of the Kingdom Nurtures the Tsaddiqim. Also within this chapter, James Choung talks of how sharing the gospel with unbelievers using the circles paradigm has been catalytic in their gospel conversations.
I recently heard a young woman saying she was considering a career change. “I’ve been in the for-profit sector now for awhile, but I can’t get away from the fact that I feel called to ministry.”
And, of course, I knew what she meant. “Going into ministry” is common shorthand for leaving a secular job to enter church or Christian non-profit work.
I wish it wasn’t so.
I’m often the first to push back when someone comes in as the language police. But this one has been bothering me for some time.
My issue with “ministry” referring to church work is both biblical and practical.
Biblically, the Greek word for “ministry” could also be translated “service.” And this is where our translations sometimes betray us. Acts 6:2 and 6:4 are a perfect example. Compare the two verses in the ESV translation:
6:2 “And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.’”
6:4 “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
This makes it sound like two very different assignments. Stephen will serve tables. Paul, on the other hand, will be devoted to the ministry of the word. But in Greek, it is the same word.
We could say, Stephen will have the ministry of waiting on tables. Paul will be devoted to the ministry of the word. Or, Stephen will committed to serve tables, Paul will be devoted to the service of the word.
My dissatisfaction comes in part because of an inherent hierarchy of words. Service is often used to describe the not-fun stuff that anyone can do. Ministry, on the other hand, is construed as an elevated, special class of work.
Using “ministry” in this way subtly reinforces the sacred-secular divide.
In addition, in the New Testament, the task of leading the church is usually described as pastor, shepherd, elder, or bishop. But not “minister.” Paul will say he is a minister of Christ Jesus (Rom. 15:16). But this is more an identity and task that transcends a specific role.
A better solution:
What might I suggest instead? I don’t want to sound grumpy without proposing a way forward. What if, instead of referring to ministry as a special class of church work, we always used an adjective before ministry?
“I’m in plumbing ministry.” Or, “I’m in banking ministry.” Or, “I am in the restaurant ministry.” Or, “I am in the real estate ministry.”
This might sound incredibly odd, and more than a tad unrealistic. But consider that many countries have ministers of defense, ministers of finance, and even prime ministers. These aren’t church workers! Ministry in each of these contexts is assumed to be a task that serves others.
What would happen if every single person in a congregation understood that their everyday work, paid or unpaid, was a ministry? What if people didn’t have to leave for-profit work to “enter the ministry”? What if, to be just a little bit snarky, the young woman I talked to had said she felt called to leave marketing ministry for church ministry?
This is the glory of the royal priesthood spelled out in the Scriptures. We are not all pastors. But we are all priests. And we all have a ministry, which certainly includes our everyday work.
Matt Rusten serves as the executive director for Made to Flourish. He and his family are a part of Christ Community’s Brookside Campus.
“Thank God it’s Friday!”
These words capture a common cultural sentiment that the life we long to live is found not in the regular work rhythms of the weekday, but in the recreational rhythms of the weekend.
But what if this view of the good life is deeply impoverished? What if the truly good life is not merely experienced in the recreational opportunities of the weekend, but also experienced in the paid and non-paid work we do each and every weekday? What if we truly woke up each Monday morning and with a joyful heart declared, “Thank God it’s Monday!”?
In the last several years, our church family has been exploring a more theologically robust understanding of how the gospel speaks into every nook and cranny of life. While our disciple-making mission has not changed, we have been growing in our understanding how apprenticeship with Jesus transforms our everyday life at home, at school, and at work. What we do on Monday is what we do with most of life.
Even though we continue to place a strong emphasis on creating meaningful and beautiful Sunday gatherings and fostering small group community, we are giving more attention to how we can better equip our growing multisite church family for life on Monday.
But what does being a “church for Monday” really mean?
In our series entitled “Church for Monday,” we press into this question. This eight-week exploration of whole-life discipleship will be highlighting seven marks of a growing disciple of Jesus. We will be learning more of what it means to be a Spirit-empowered apprentice who lives fully into the intimate and integral life Jesus offers us each and every day.
It is our hope that we will increasingly see our callings as a primary way we worship, are spiritually formed into Christlikeness, live out and proclaim the gospel, and further the common good of all fellow image-bearers of God. It is my heartfelt prayer that as apprentices of Jesus each one of us will roll out of bed on Monday mornings with joyful expectation and praise-filled lips declaring,”Thank God it’s Monday!”
Guest Author: Clay Nickel
I was a bit intimidated when approached by our Pastor of Children’s Ministries to contribute an article on serving—I fail a lot in serving and in modeling service. Still, we are fortunate that our whole family has generally embraced service. Enough so, that we have been asked, “How do you get your kids to serve?” Simply, if you want kids who serve, you must serve. If principles are caught and not taught, it must be modeled. So what is the model? The ideas below are not comprehensive, but I hope they serve as launching points.
Ever since American churches embraced Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, there has been a widespread movement to find individual purpose, in relationship with God, but also specifically in regard to service. I wholeheartedly agree with the concepts of identifying our spiritual giftedness, personality types, passions, and strengths.
I also wonder if the American church has been inculcated with the concept that unless you find your own true calling, any efforts are wasted or unnecessary. Past experience in service and leadership positions leads me to believe this leaves necessary work undone and even a lack of joy among believers.
Instead, if there is a need, fill it, even if it’s not perceptible as a “true calling.” Again, my experience is that when I’ve set aside my desires and sacrificially served in areas I don’t particularly care for or feel ill-equipped for, God has honored it, ultimately providing both growth and fulfillment.
As an example, my hope for my own kids is that they achieve their highest and best calling, fully utilizing their unique gifts and abilities. There are also times I just want them to take out the trash, do the dishes, scoop dog doo, or any number of everyday tasks. How is it any different as God’s children? Yes, we should seek to fully utilize our gifts, but sometimes there are less self-actualizing things that need doing. I wonder if God also expects His children to pitch in, with good attitudes. When my kids serve well and without complaining, I want to lavish them with praise and good things, including helping them eventually fulfill interests and unique abilities.
Don’t Forget Hospitality
I value my privacy and the feeling that my home is a sanctum—yes, I’m an introvert. Conversely, my wife loves to be with people. She intentionally makes our home a place where everyone feels welcome, from simple things like always having popsicles in the garage freezer for our kids’ neighborhood friends, to more complex issues like happily accommodating dietary restrictions when others come for a meal or sensitivity to vastly different backgrounds or ideologies of our guests.
I’m grateful for a spouse who stretches me to graciously welcome neighbors, our kids’ friends, and fellow church-goers into our home. Doing so is key to the relational connections that are a bedrock of sharing the gospel and encouraging believers. What’s more, it’s been a blessing, even for an introverted curmudgeon like me.
Embrace a Wider Scope of Service
Our daughter, now 17, is in the midst of selecting a college and, as a byproduct, setting a direction for a career path. More immediately, she is searching for a part time job, which she desires in order to have “fun money” but also for additional savings for upcoming college expenses. It will be imperative to impress upon her that such work is not just about the compensation she’ll receive, but more importantly, it is about the contribution she’ll make to glorify God and in service to her fellow man.
Genesis 1-2 shows we are created in the likeness of God and are commanded to be creative and productive (fruitful), just like our Heavenly Father. He created us for work, not as a means of economic remuneration or status, but as an extension of who we are and how we are made to glorify Him, while also providing value for others.
Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “cultivate,” aboda, in Gen. 2:15 is translated contextually three different ways throughout the Old Testament: work, service, or worship. Even as members of the workforce, we are called to service and worship in our work. Called to faithfully serve God and our neighbors with our abilities, creativity, and fruitfulness, regardless of the role.
How would the church and our communities look if we all served when needed and where needed, regardless of our personal preferences, as an act of love?
How would society and the workplace change if we all viewed our daily work, whether paid or unpaid, through the lens of contribution instead of compensation, as an act of loving service to others and God-honoring worship?
How could we have impact for generations to come if we modeled this attitude of work/service/worship to our children?
Clay Nickel serves on Christ Community’s Elder Leadership Team. He attends the Olathe Campus with his wife, Sarah, and their three children. This article was previously published in HomeFront magazine, September 2018 edition.