Here is the sermon given March 30, 2014 at Monte Vista Chapel annual mission conference.
This prayer is attributed to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu adapted from an original prayer by Sir Francis Drake.
Disturb us, O Lord
when we are too well-pleased with ourselves
when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little,
because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, O Lord
when with the abundance of things we possess,
we have lost our thirst for the water of life
when, having fallen in love with time,
we have ceased to dream of eternity
and in our efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision of Heaven to grow dim.
Stir us, O Lord
to dare more boldly, to venture into wider seas
where storms show Thy mastery,
where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.
In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes
and invited the brave to follow.
A church leader who desires to bring about change in his congregation could learn from past experience. Here are some suggestions.
Think of a major change of attitude, or an emerging value, that has been embraced by the people you lead. Ask questions like these to learn about change in your context:
- What expressions of graciousness were evident? By what individuals or groups?
- What role did the preaching play?
- What did the formal leaders supply?
- What did the non-formal but recognized leaders supply? Who were they?
- How was perseverance evidenced? What enabled the congregation to persevere through difficult changes?
- Were any structures changed? How?
- What communications were helpful?
- How was strategic planning or restating the vision involved?
- How (and who) did leaders first need to change? What prompted change in the leaders?
- What precipitated the need for change?
- How did the congregation first respond?
Have you read about the contrast between people who are messy and those who are neat-freaks? Messies don’t pick up after themselves; they are oblivious to standards of neatness. Cleanliness is not a high value. They do life without having to place everything in order. Their desks are a mess. Their shoes lie around the closet or house. Dishes in the kitchen. Workshops seemingly piled with tools yet they usually know where to start searching.
Neat-freaks are the opposite.
So recently I was in a meeting with other church leaders and we got to talking about sharing worship space. Usually (at least currently; in the future the “shoe” could be on the other foot)…usually, it is an Anglo congregation sharing space in THEIR church building with an ethnic congregation. I have heard the difficulty expressed many times, “They don’t clean up the rooms; they leave them messy.” Or, “They just let their kids run all over the place. It’s chaos!” Or, “They cook in the church kitchen and the smell of their food doesn’t go away!”
Some of these issues stem from different cultural values. God must get a kick out of watching how we rub each other the wrong way sometimes.
This got me to wondering if Jesus would fit in more naturally with the messies or the neat-freaks. It got me to wondering, when opinions clash as to how to use a building, whose culture is really the problem.
Velcro has become a part of everyday life for many of us. But how does it work? Velcro has hundreds of little “hooks” ready to grab onto the “loops”. But if there are no loops, the hooks remain unused.
Here is a hook: “And He summoned the multitude with His disciples, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34).
Here is another: “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it” (Mark 8:35).
These hooks are incredibly important to Jesus Christ and the survival of the gospel.
But increasingly there seem to be fewer loops among disciples. When we think of our Christian experience, we seldom envision following Christ down the path of self-denial, of lifting our cross with His, of giving up our own desires and ambitions so as to embrace His desires and ambitions.
Preachers have been forced to go quiet on this message. People move to where their “needs are met.”
I think many older believers still would like to be loops. And I think many younger disciples want to be loops too.
But they hear the church calling them to their programs, not to the hooks.
How is God at work transforming the life in cities, and how does He ask us to cooperate? Consider Ezekiel 22 (in the Bible) as a good indicator. There, the prophet reveals ten characteristics of ancient Jerusalem that anger God.
IN A TRANSFORMED CITY:
1. The people collectively destroy their false idol worship and serve the one true God (Ezek. 22:2-4).
2. Leaders cease using their power to shed innocent blood (22:6).
3. The people cease making light of father and mother (22:7).
4. The people cease oppressing the stranger (22:7).
5. The people cease mistreating the fatherless and widow (22:7).
6. The people cease despising God’s holy things and cease profaning the sabbath (22:8).
7. Men who formerly slandered to cause bloodshed stop doing so (22:9).
8. People stop committing lewdness (9), and stop uncovering their father’s nakedness; they stop violating women who are set apart during their (menstrual) impurity (22:10).
9. Men stop committing abomination with the wife of his neighbor; they stop defiling their daughters in law; they stop violating their sisters (22:11).
10. They cease taking bribes to shed blood, stop charging interest to make gain; they stop profiting from neighbors through extortion; and they stop forgetting God (22:12).
Friend, there is a lot one person can do to be a part of transforming their city.
And looking at this list helps us realize that God is not being selfish when He calls us to repent. Every single one of these sins tear down the life of society, and every call to repentance will improve our cities.
None of these destructive behaviors have gone away. The dark inclinations of the human heart continue to battle against the wholeness of society.
In this context, the words of Scripture offer hope to anyone who will appeal to Jesus Christ for help: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. (Romans 6:12-13)
People have varying kinds of friendships with documents. It may be because they are not confident with the local language (for me, English…well, American). For others it may be a learning pattern, or an issue with eyesight. Perhaps it stems from restlessness and distractability. But the reason may also be a cultural one.
To put it simply, some people prefer talking face to face rather than reading content on a page. They are strong on relationships. They excel at conversation. I remember many times in Kenya being embroiled in conversation with a Kenyan friend or even new acquaintance. The ability to recall details of an event, or to unfold a story, amazed me.
Such cultures are typically more community oriented. Time is taken to catch up on the extended family. Greetings often include a report on all the relatives and their well-being. If you walk into a meeting that is already in process, you will still quietly go around the table and shake hands with each person there.
I was raised in a different kind of culture, one that is more individualistic. This is more typical of Americans, at least those hailing from northern Europe stock. So when I introduce myself, I get right to the point. I don’t consider giving an update on my family. I give my title, my work, my city. Pretty soon, I’m getting to the point of the meeting –what I need or what I can offer. Communication is direct and speedy. Efficiency. That’s how I’m wired.
Bring these two cultural clusters into the context of a cross-cultural relationship, whether one-on-one or in an organizational setting. If I want to strengthen a relationship with the other person, I need to take a lot more time for relational updating than my internal time clock allows. If I’m conducting a meeting, a prompt start is not going to serve the group well. I need to hang loose and let people mingle and converse for a good 15 or 20 minutes (and not wear a scowl while checking my watch).
What else? Well, I need to be okay with the fact that some of the others do not feel comfortable with email communications. Maybe its the technology, or the language. Maybe its the impersonal nature of the method. Maybe its the cultural belief that if we’re friends we’ll make time to get together face to face and talk it through. Then the whole environment, the body language, the gestures, the emotion — everything adds to effective transmission of the message, and gives opportunity for exchange of ideas.
Sure, sending an email blast to the whole group is easier, but is it effective interculturally? It gets more done but does more get accomplished? I tend to think that if I have put something in writing that it should be clear to all. But I may have distanced myself from my colleague of a more relational culture.
Let’s go back to the description of Jesus’ resurrection as recorded by his contemporaries (two eye-witnesses, Matthew and John; and two researchers, Mark and Luke). One task Jesus wanted to accomplish very intentionally was to physically appear to His followers in order to prove that His resurrection was true. Where there were doubters (eg. Thomas) He appeased their fears. A second task Jesus tackled was to open the eyes of their understanding, revealing that He was the fulfillment of a plethora of ancient prophecies, as well as His own predictions of death and resurrection.
But there is an important insight gained as we compare the four gospel accounts. Each writer records words of Jesus which reveal that His Jesus’ primary burden as the resurrected Son of God was the authorizing and sending out of His disciples to expand His enterprise.
MATTHEW emphasizes our authority to make disciples, baptize, and teach obedience to Jesus’ commands. (Matt. 18:18-20)
MARK emphasizes the global proclamation of the gospel accompanied by miraculous signs and protection. (Mark 16:15-18)
JOHN focuses on our going out with the authority to transact spiritual business in Jesus’ name. (John 20:21-23)
After receiving these instructions, the reaction of the disciples was to worship Christ with great joy, and to gather for praise. They waited in prayerful anticipation of the power to go out and fulfill their new purpose for living. They were overjoyed that their Master was alive and would continue to be with them. And they were emboldened to live out His teachings.
The cross of Christ accomplished the work of salvation. The resurrection of Christ launches us on the mission of proclaiming it. Help us Lord to do so with worship, great joy, praise, and prayerful anticipation!
Here is a great video of a reporter who discovered an uplifting story by merely engaging another passenger on a flight home. It reminds us that:
- unplanned opportunities are all around us
- everyone has a story
- many immigrant stories are uplifting
- we benefit personally when we show interest in others and listen well
I encourage you to watch this video or read the transcript of Flying Coach