[Editor’s Note: The story you are about to read is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.]
For the last several years I’ve been focusing most of my time and attention in the inner city neighborhood I live in. I’ve also been pretty direct about working with people that don’t darken the doors of a church building. To be clear, there are plenty of hard-working, decent people where I live. However, there is also a fair number of people with lives that are a mess. The homeless, the drug-addict, the sex-addict, the attention-addict. The list goes on. These are the people Jesus would hang out with. But they are also not the safest people in the world to minister to.
And for the last several years, I’ve also been fairly forward about calling people to live their lives down here with us. Coming into the neighborhood, dropping the Gospel, and then leaving wasn’t going to work. Come, be a part of the neighborhood. Learn how to interact with people who have no interest in your church. Come share the Gospel here. Come make disciples here. Come live here. Give your lives.
This week we had our first real brush with danger. We probably should have expected it but things like this, however, when it came it came unexpectedly.
My wife and her friend Jamie have been meeting for the past couple of months as a two and three. They could meet in our kitchen or at the Panera across town. But Christy and Jamie have chosen to meet at the McDonald’s because that’s where people in our neighborhood gather. This night went much like any other. As they left, they were approached by a man walking towards the door they were exiting. This man walked straight up to Jamie, punched her right above her right eye knocking her down to the ground, and kept right on walking. As if this situation wasn’t bad enough, Jamie was 9 months pregnant. The assaulter has not been found.
Now, for the most part, this situation has worked out as best as it could have. Jamie, aside from some bruising is physically okay. I say she was nine months pregnant because yesterday she gave birth to a very healthy baby boy. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that it didn’t rattle all of us. It rattled Jamie. It rattled her husband Mark who had to face the helplessness of not being there to defend his wife. It rattled Christy, who had to witness this event. It rattled me. It rattled our church.
And for me, at least right now, the thing that is most clear about this situation is that I’ve been the one encouraging my house church to embark on this kind of dangerous mission. Christy and Jamie wouldn’t have been at that McDonald’s on a weeknight in a somewhat dangerous neighborhood if I hadn’t been calling people to embody the Gospel here. So in some weird sense, I feel somewhat responsible for this happening. Could I have anticipated it this week? No. Could I have stopped it? No. But have I been asking people to do something dangerous? Yes.
And all of this has made one thing very clear: Jesus did not call people to do safe things. Of the twelve apostles that existed on the day of Pentecost, only one of them (John) didn’t die from persecution. And even then Domitian the Roman Emperor tried to boil him oil. Countless others have been lost over the course of the church history as they’ve tried to bring the Gospel to people who didn’t have it. In other places in the world, becoming a follower of Jesus is a death sentence. Its only in the West we are fairly inexperienced at loosing anything for our faith.
It’s important to be very clear: What we do is not safe. I’m not calling people to do something that has no risk. In fact, what I’m calling people to do is something dangerous. I’m asking people to stick out their neck–to place everything they have on the line for Jesus because he placed everything He had on the line for us. I’m calling people to danger and this week the implications of that is really real.
I used to think calling people to do something dangerous was the cool thing to do. We get to do something others aren’t willing to do. But this week has changed that for me. It’s made it doing something dangerous real. It’s put a tangible price on what could possibly happen to me and some of the people I care about the most. And while I don’t like the price that it may cost, I’m willing to pay that cost to continue to follow Jesus.
Why you ask? Why would we do dangerous (but not unwise) things in order to follow Him? Well I’m glad you asked. We’ve become convinced that knowing Jesus is better than anything else this world has to offer–even the physical safety of ourselves and our loved ones. We love Jesus more than we love everyone around us, including ourselves. And it’s this love…this love for Him born out of gratefulness for what He sacrificed for us…that compels us. We want to share everything we have with Him and be made to look like Him, even if that means some day dying like He died. We believe Jesus and His resurrection is real.
And that is why we embrace the lifestyle we do. And its why I invite others into it. Not because I don’t see the dangers. I do. But I also see the great reward stored up for those who are unashamed to lay down their lives for Jesus.
“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.” -Mark 8:35
Have you heard of the Cajun Navy yet? They are an impromptu group of Louisianians who banded together to supplement rescue efforts in Houston and Eastern Texas. They utilize their own money and their own boats and watercraft in order to rescue people from a tragedy most of us only hope to comprehend.
So yesterday after hearing about the response that normal, everyday people had to the hurricane, I was extremely encouraged to see this Twitter thread from Brad Watson comparing the rescue efforts of the church in Houston to the way the church is supposed to function every day:
Frankly, Brad’s right. It takes a catastrophe to show us this, but when the church really recognizes the seriousness of its situation, it can mobilize and become the most generous, resourceful, and creative force for good on the planet. The issue isn’t our ability, it’s how awake we our to the situation around us.
Here in the city I live in Iowa, we have what amounts to a refugee crisis. We frequently have men, women, and children flowing in from Chicago, literally fleeing the violence and lifestyle that Chicago has been known for. Some people come with nothing but the clothes on their back. One of my daughters came here with her biological family in the back of a moving truck. But there are parts of our city that receive fresh influxes of wonderful people from Chicago who bring their hurts and their poverty. We love these people, but there are definite needs. It’s a quiet crisis, so there’s very little response or help. Your city has a quiet crisis of its own kind, I’m sure.
But even if you live in a near utopia suburb or small town, there is a constant crisis that we all are experiencing and few of us are awoken to it. It’s the crisis of a life with out Christ that culminates at death in an eternity in Hell. We don’t talk about those realities much any more because they’ve become unfashionable. They seem antiquated and an attempt to motivate people out of fear. We’d rather talk about how Jesus affects our life here in the present.
Make no mistake, Jesus changes everything! But in the same way that just a few days ago there were desperate people with water completely surrounding their homes that needed a volunteer navy to intervene, there is a generation of people who don’t know Christ that need the church to leverage what they have to rescue them from an unseen, but terrible fate. It’s a quiet crisis of epic proportions.
When we wake up to this quiet crisis, it compels us to get involved. The early church was so incredibly committed to the mission, that Luke describes it this way:
All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.
There was a common unity around Jesus and His mission (that included caring for the poor) that compelled the people in the Jerusalem church to leverage everything they have for that mission. Our ability to mobilize and be a solution to the crises around us are tied to our ability to not let our hearts get lulled to sleep by the seeming normalcy of these everyday emergencies.
There are quiet crises going on all around us. There is one eternal crisis constantly going on, being played out in the hearts of men and women we all know. We have the answer for both in the Gospel of Jesus. We just have to keep our hearts open to the need.
Stay woke, church.
One of the mysteries of the Christian faith is that God has always existed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Since before the creation of the world, these three have existed in an exchange of love and unity so perfect that we describe “them” as one God and three persons. This love flowing back and forth from God to God is the foundation for the reality we describe as Heaven. Everything we love about the idea of Heaven is born out of the glory of the love of God being exchanged between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
So when we think about Jesus and the sacrifice He made for us, we often think about the fact that He was unjustly accused, the pain He endured on the cross, the loss of His physical life, and the punishment He took on Himself for our sins. Rarely, though, do we think about the fact that Jesus made an earlier sacrifice. Jesus actually willingly laid down the life of Heaven to come to be a man. He left perfection and chose to live in a world damaged by sin and full of brokenness. He stepped outside of the tangible presence of God in order to lay down His life for us. Paul actually says that He “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men,” (Philippians 2:6-7).
Jesus had to give up everything that made Him God in order to walk out our redemption. He had to leave the unbroken relationship with the Father He had since the beginning of time in order to come and save us. He left the comforts of Heaven for a life on Earth that would end with the most terrible death humanity had yet devised. He traded everything He had so we could know the Father.
Friends, this reality should challenge us to our very core. At it’s root, there is a radical surrender unlike anything the world has ever seen at play here, all for our good. This sacrifice caused our salvation. It purchased redemption for our world. This sacrifice wasn’t just to save us though, Paul also uses this picture of Jesus laying down the privilege of being God as an example of what we are to do: “Have this attitude in yourselves.”
We are to lay down our lives the same way Jesus laid down His. Not just by suffering a painful death on the cross, but by leaving behind our privilege for the sake of others. Nowhere is this message more needed than in the West. We have become, for all intents and purposes the most comfortable generation in the history of mankind. And yet, though we have more comfort, more ease, and even more ability than generations past, we seem to struggle with sharing the Gospel and leading people to Jesus. We believe this is because of the hardness of our hearts, the wealth or wisdom of the population, or the fact that our culture is just tired of Christianity.
But what if the problem is at least in part that we’re not willing to get uncomfortable? What if as a church, we haven’t done what Jesus did? Is it possible that we haven’t been willing to embrace the radical leaving behind of the comforts of the world and the comforts of the church to bring the Gospel to places damaged by sin? Is it possible that we are making the opposite choice that Jesus did? Are we choosing the comfort of a relationship with God and God’s people, the comfort of nice things, the comfort of safety, and loosing out on a life lived among the lost helping them find their way back to God?
Friends, today, I want to challenge you. There is a radical sacrifice that Jesus made when He became a man. He laid aside His status. He embraced suffering, even to the cross and it opened up salvation for millions. Can you lay aside your status? Can you bring the Gospel to those who don’t have it? Can you embrace the suffering that comes along with that life, knowing others will come to Christ?
I don’t believe that most of the world hates Christ. I believe they’re waiting to see the life of Jesus displayed in front of them. The question is will you lay down your life like He did? Will you embrace the radical surrender of your own life for the life of Christ?
I challenge you to do it.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ around the country,
Recently a friend of mine from my time in Kansas City suffered a terrible tragedy. Jason Johns, an inner city leader of a church in Kansas City, was in a terrible car accident with his three children. All four were injured, but his daughters Hope and Elise need miraculous intervention. You can read more updates on their GoFundMe page. Please pray for Jason, his wife, their family and extended family with me and believe for God’s best for this young family.