I continue to worship with Stones River. They also insisted I continue to serve as one of the six shepherds (“elders” sounds old and within our fellowship these groups tend to focus too much on things deacons should do and no one focuses on spiritual leadership, so we decided a name change might remind us and the members of our family that we are attempting to have a different focus). While I gather with Stones River, when I am in town, I travel a fair amount internationally and domestically. These are the times when it is hard staying in the loop, but I have a deep trust of the other men with whom I serve. Nine out of the next ten weeks I will miss our Sunday gathering, but I will be able to participate in the Monday evening shepherds meetings.
Starting next Sunday, I will be driving about forty miles to do some training at another church. Some of their folks have opened a non-profit coffee shop as an intentional outreach. The business was deliberately organized as a fund-raising mechanism for water projects in third-world nations. The name is appropriately, The Well.
Recently, they launched three Sunday evening worship experiences that happen in one side of the coffee house. They have met eight people who have expressed some interest in further spiritual discussions. But how do these caring Christians conduct these conversations in ways that are non-manipulative and hold the greatest hope of bearing spiritual fruit. They hope Discovery Groups will be helpful.
Recently, I was introduced to The Change Formula: C = (D x V x F) > R. This business principle affirms that Change equals Dissatisfaction x Vision x First Steps that is greater than the Resistance. Without being able to envision a new reality, being dissatisfied with status quo and armed with a knowledge of how to get started, change will never happen. But these three must all be present and their combined force must be greater than the resistance that is present.
When I first heard this I thought, “Oh, well, that is interesting.” But a couple of weeks later I found myself referring to the formula. What I began to notice is that failed attempts to produce real change lack at least one of the three being present in sufficient quantities. Most change agents appear to assume that presenting a new vision is enough to produce change. Often, when they find that to be inadequate, they will attack the status quo in an attempt to produce dissatisfaction. But it is possible that people will become dissatisfied with the pressure being placed on them to produce change and the net result is the resistance is actually increased.
But the piece of the equation that has really grabbed my attention is the call for “First Steps.” When I first encountered the vision of Church Planting Movements, I lacked clear First Steps to model, coach and mentor others to take who caught the vision and felt the dissatisfaction. Without being able to suggest first steps, I could not catalyze change.
Yes, these recently settled people were at great risk. Their situation was dire.
The king of Assyria ordered, “Send back some priests who were taken into exile from there. They can go back and live there and instruct the people in what the god of the land expects of them….They honored and worshiped God, but not exclusively—they also appointed all sorts of priests, regardless of qualification, to conduct a variety of rites at the local fertility shrines. They honored and worshiped God, but they also kept up their devotions to the old gods of the places they had come from” (2 Kings 17:27,32-33, The Message).
The Samaritans of Jesus’ day were descended from these peoples. This is the historical-cultural background behind Jesus’ parable we call “The Good Samaritan.” It also informs his interactions with the woman at the well and people from her village. Jews considered the Samaritans spiritual mutts. While they claimed to worship the God of Israel, the religious purists knew their sordid spiritual lineage.
Sounds remarkably similar to Islam.
Would Jesus shock us with the modern-day Parable of the Good Muslim? Would he spend a couple of days with Muslims who want to hear about the Messiah?
Take a look with me at the Samaritans. When Assyria took the ten northern tribes captive, they moved people from other nations they conquered into the region to harvest the crops so Assyria could receive taxes. (Wars are most often fought over economic resources.) Israel was valuable for the crops raised there and also the tariffs that could be charged for the products that came to and from the Far East and Africa. Nearby seaports like Tyre and Sidon gained great wealth as transportation hubs, while Israel exported wheat, barley, wine and olive oil. The rulers in Nineveh wanted people there to avoid losing the wealth to be had. Here’s how 2 Kings 17:24-26 is stated in The Message:
The king of Assyria brought in people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and relocated them in the towns of Samaria, replacing the exiled Israelites. They moved in as if they owned the place and made themselves at home. When the Assyrians first moved in, God was just another god to them; they neither honored nor worshiped him. Then God sent lions among them and people were mauled and killed.
This message was then sent back to the king of Assyria: “The people you brought in to occupy the towns of Samaria don’t know what’s expected of them from the god of the land, and now he’s sent lions and they’re killing people right and left because nobody knows what the god of the land expects of them.”
During the seasons when they honored God, Israel shone brightly (e.g., the fame Solomon enjoyed when the Queen of Sheba visited). But when they became insular and rebellious, Yahweh still used them to reveal his glory to the nations.
There are seasons when we go to the nations willingly. There are seasons when they come to us and we willingly present the beauty of God’s transformative covenant relationship. But there are also times when we are sent against our best-laid plans (e.g., Jonah to Nineveh, Paul under arrest in Rome). And, last but not least, there are the times when God’s people are captives to their enemies in their own land. American Christians have known the first three. I pray we never have to experience the fourth. This only comes as God’s corrective to the persistent rebellion of his people to be a blessing to the people groups [nations].
Yes, I believe the church is being watched in the heavenlies. I believe God is doing something on a grander scale than our faith allows us to see (most of the time). I believe there are times when he pulls back the curtains to give us a kingdom of heaven peek. I believe we are living through intriguing times.
Muslims continue to move into our county. They come because of educational opportunities afforded them. There is an excellent school for people who are learning English as a second (third, fourth, etc.) language. MTSU offers multiple majors. Housing and job opportunities abound.
But what if all the Christians who have become panicked since the mosque was proposed, took another tact? What if we prayed God would prepare Persons of Peace among them? What if the followers of Jesus became intentional in befriending these Muslims in order to identify Persons of Peace among them? What if we broke the norm? What if we pushed through our fear of the unknown and took Jesus’ command to make disciples of all the people groups [nations] seriously?
God selected Israel to be his grace answer to the multiplicity of cultures that arose after Babel (Genesis 11-12). He called Abram and his offspring and blessed them to be a blessing to the people groups [nations]. In covenant relationship with Yahweh, Israel was a city set on a hill. He placed them on the strategic land bridge between EurAsia and Africa. Here at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea and the western terminus of the trade routes East and South, God put his Chosen Ones.
Is it possible God is sending these people groups to us?