Justice: Encompassing Love

By Shannon Youell

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.

He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.

This is what God the Lord says—the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:

“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.  I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”

Isaiah 42:1-7

A friend of mine, a recent immigrant from Iran, was telling me recently that the Muslims do not call Allah “god” in the sense that we often do, where we use it as a name.  He said that Allah is more than a name, but is a descriptor of what Allah is:  Love. In his telling, this Love is enveloping, surrounding, all encompassing.  Interestingly, Wikipedia says that the name Allah is used both by Muslims and Arab Christians. The name is the essence of Love – Love is God’s essence.

I asked my friend’s daughter why their family had converted to Christianity when they moved to Canada. She said that in reading the teachings of Jesus she saw God’s love.

“Here is my servant,” God says to the Israelites in reference to Messiah. He will not break the bruised reed nor snuff out the smoldering wick, but rather He establishes justice on earth.

This love, this incarnational love, in the shape of Jesus, looks upon us humans as bruised reeds, beautiful-but-broken sons of the good, good Father. He still has hope for us. He takes our hand and invites us to join Him as the vessels through which His righteousness and justice is delivered.

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I am moved by the imagery of God holding my hand.  Of his all-encompassing love holding onto me in the midst of the darkness so that I join him in shining a light into the snuffed-out places in humanity’s struggles and sorrow.  As noted two weeks ago on this blog,  “often the righteousness of God in the OT refers to the faithfulness with which God acts. This faithfulness is in full accordance with his commitments to his people and with his status as divine King—to whom the powerless may look for protection, the oppressed for redress and the needy for help.”  Verse 3 in Isaiah 42 says just that, “In faithfulness, he will bring forth justice…”

This is also our expression of faithfulness to the goodness of God—that we “become the expressions of his light in the world.” We incarnate the love that is beyond descriptors, larger than any one word can hold; this love crosses languages and cultures and yes, even the misguided religiosity of others and ourselves. God incarnated translates that Love into humanity in the Messiah, Jesus.  Jesus, incarnated in us, is meant to do the same.

God holding our hand takes us somewhere. He leads, we walk alongside. He reveals, we step in and act. “I will take your hand,” He says, “to make you to be a covenant for all peoples and to make you to be a light.” God leads us to participate in His mission; God leads us by the hand to be the incarnational presence “to whom the powerless may look for protection, the oppressed for redress and the needy for help.”

It is his mission to the world He so loves and it is ours as those fully encompassed in His love.

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Justice Incarnated

By Shannon Youell and Cailey Morgan

“The church exists for mission, to be a sign of God’s saving presence among God’s people. This presence is not abstract but is always concrete in a particular locality.” (Emmanuel Katongole. The Sacrifice of Africa: A Political Theology for Africa).”

In Sunday’s reflection from the Canadian Baptist Advent Reader, we find the story of Paride Taban and witness the thick gospel in action, where the church lives a life of the incarnational, of being present with God’s Presence in our world as participants in righteousness and justice that restores community relationships – humans to God and humans to one another. macu-ic-60818-unsplash.jpg

Psalm 89 tells us that the foundations of the Kingdom of God is righteousness and justice. Our foundations as God’s kids are different. The pillars of this family are righteousness and justice: primary concern for other-ishness rather than self-ishness.

And somehow in the midst of surrendering our drive for making our own lives better, we find the blessing of God which is more abundant than anything we could build for ourselves. Even beyond that, as we begin to walk in the light of the Lord’s presence (Psalm 89 again), the Lord promises to take hold of our hand, mentor us in the way of the light so that we become the expression of His light in the world (Isaiah 42:6).

Reflect upon the story of Paride Taban below, asking ourselves, how are we, the church, lean into an “ecclesiology, a vision of what the church is called to be.”

Paride Taban is a fascinating and compelling figure in the African church today.  Formerly a Sudanese bishop, he recently received the illustrious United Nations peace prize for promoting peace in South Sudan. Throughout his many years of service as the Bishop of Torit (1983-2004), Sudan was marred and afflicted by civil war. Bishop Taban found himself displaced and homeless as he worked among his people who were likewise displaced by the violence. Despite all these challenges, he remained a tireless advocate for peace. 

But when peace finally came to South Sudan, instead of seeking a position of leadership and authority, Taban retired and established a new community in Kuron called the Holy Spirit Peace Village. He dreamed of a community where tribal rivalries could be set aside so that peace, cooperation and mutual respect might be the rule. He relocated to Kuron and lived in a tent as he began to share his vision and invite people of good will to join him. Families from several different tribal groups and faiths have chosen to live in this community. It has become a model of what is possible. 

In commenting on the Holy Spirit Peace Village, the theologian Emmanuel Katongole wrote “What Taban is driving at—or better, what is driving Taban—is ecclesiology, a vision of what the church is called to be. That is why relocation is not simply about a change in geography or location but a theological category, an essential ecclesiological mark – indeed, the very mission of the church. The church exists for mission, to be a sign of God’s saving presence among God’s people. This presence is not abstract but is always concrete in a particular locality.” (Emmanuel Katongole. The Sacrifice of Africa: A Political Theology for Africa). 

As we reflect on the incarnation at Christmas, it is a time to consider God’s missional calling on the church to be an incarnational people, to set aside our status and privileges in order to live out a vision of the Kingdom which brings peace, reconciliation and hope. Whether you live in South Sudan or Southern Ontario, we are called to have the same mindset as Christ, who emptied himself for others. 

Jonathan Mills 
Immanuel Baptist Church, Toronto 

This Advent season, and always, let’s remember that righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne love, that love and faithfulness go before Him. And, as we will discuss more next week, let’s surrender to Him and become the ones about whom the Psalmist says, “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord” (Psalm 89:15).

Visit baptist.ca/advent to read more reflections from the Canadian Baptist family.

Justice: Restoring Community Relationships

By Shannon Youell

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

This familiar verse from Jesus’ Big Sermon in Matthew 6 finds itself right after Jesus has broken down and reconstructed some preconceived thinking about kingdom, justice, righteousness and mercy.  After He helps reframe the hearers’ understanding of these things within God’s kingdom vision, He tells them not to worry about their life (worry causes humans to become self-preservationist, self-focused, self-ish), for God is already quite aware of human needs. Jesus’ reframing language leads to this phrase inverse 33 and implies a promise from Isaiah 9 of the coming King who will be called wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and will reign as Messiah, establishing God’s kingdom with justice and righteousness.

The Hebrew word for “justice” is tsedaqah, which means “the kind of justice that delivers from slavery and oppression and restores community relationships.”

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Justice is most often paired with righteousness in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word for “righteousness” is misphat and means “the deliverance of justice that restores community relationships.”  The text note in Psalm 4:1 of the NIV says this: “often the righteousness of God in the OT refers to the faithfulness with which God acts. This faithfulness is in full accordance with his commitments to his people and with his status as divine King—to whom the powerless may look for protection, the oppressed for redress and the needy for help.”

The combination of justice and righteousness is a strong thread that winds through the story of God and his people. It is a foundational ethos of God’s kingdom citizens and ushers in the Abrahamic covenant and Jesus’ reiterated call to his followers. Therefore, justice and righteousness are aspects of the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus as Lord and Savior delivers to us and enlists us to, for the sake of the world that God so loves.

Matthew 6:33 reminds us that our struggles with individualism, consumerism, and materialism are, as the Justice Primer highlights, “all barriers to the kingdom; thus, all barriers to justice.”i These things keep our hearts paralyzed from participating fully in our call as followers of Jesus to be deliverers of the kind of justice and righteousness that restores community relationships: human to God and human to one another.

When we do justice, our hearts are aligned with the truth of the Gospel—which is that Christ died to make things right, to make them as they should be. Restored.  When we act, participating in God’s restorational justice, we begin to realize that this Gospel is bigger than any weekend service project.  We intuitively begin to move from a ministry of relief to a ministry of restoration, from a “service project” to a new way of living, from the heart of mercy to desire for true justice…Mercy offers compassion and relief.  Justice offers an advocate and action.ii

Tim Keller has written that “The Gospel…is not just about individual happiness and fulfillment. It is not just a wonderful plan for ‘my life’ but a wonderful plan for the world. It is about the coming of God’s kingdom to renew everything. Gospel-centered churches do not only urge individuals to be converted, but also to seek peace and justice in our cities and in our world.”iii

What does this search for justice look like for us, as we enter into this season of Advent that is abundantly marked with “goodwill towards all peoples?” Often this is the time of year where we engage in mercy-motivated projects. We think of children and families and those who are homeless or lonely. We long to see them enjoy the good things the celebration of the season espouses. My work at our local food bank often highlights for me how good and generous we are towards those who struggle. Sadly, it also highlights that goodwill often ends with the taking down of the decorations.

God calls us to reorient our lives around mercy and justice, around being healers of the world. This is not a project, but—as the Primer continually points out—a transformed heart that desires good news to be good news both now and into eternity for humanity. Jesus describes His followers as the “light of the world,” those who participate in acts of righteousness that deliver the kind of justice that reveals our Go: our God who loves the world He created so much He gave His son Jesus to usher in His kingdom where peace and justice prevail.

Hatmaker notes in Justice Primer:

  • True mercy changes judgment to humility
  • True mercy changes sympathy to action
  • True mercy changes our kingdom to God’s Kingdom
  • True mercy changes selfishness to selflessness
  • True mercy changes doubt to faithiv

As we engage our neighbourhoods and our communities this Advent season, may we be ever mindful of the thick Gospel that Jesus as Lord teaches. We ourselves discover our lives in Christ when we lay them down for the least of these.

May we discover together that when we give more to those who have need than we give to ourselves, not only for a season, but as a lifestyle, we engage more fully with a Gospel that changes not only those to whom we proclaim and demonstrate God’s goodness and mercy, but ourselves as well. May we be transformed to love God and love others more robustly and generously.

PS: There are plenty of great Advent resources for personal and corporate devotion out there. Check out our tribe’s Advent Devotional here, or sign up for daily readings from waiting in the margins: an advent reader from our friends at New Leaf Network.


 

i. Brandon Hatmaker, The Justice Primer (Missio Publishing: 2016): 83.

ii. Ibid: 75.

iii. Ibid: 42.

iv. Ibid: 58.

Living Like Citizens

By Cailey Morgan

What does it mean to live as citizens of God’s Kingdom?

We’re in the middle of a series on Gospel, Kingdom and Justice. In some ways, Gospel is the biggest picture—the story of God with us throughout history and the reality that He is for all who will receive Him. Kingdom zooms in a little to explain that God is King, so living out the Gospel (aka, living in His presence with Him) means we are citizens of His Kingdom: the realm in which what God wants done gets done.

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In coming articles we will dive into Justice—an even sharper focus on one of the key ways that the Good News of the Kingdom is enacted on earth and in heaven. But today, let’s look at one of the ways the Tangible Kingdom Primer describes God’s Kingdom on earth:

“We believe that whenever you see a group of people who find a rhythm or balance among communion, community and mission, you will always find the Kingdom. It will be tangible!”i

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Communion represents ‘oneness’—those things that make up our intimate connection and worship of God. Community represents aspects of ‘togetherness’—those things we share with each other as we live our lives together. And mission represents ‘otherness’—the aspects of our life together that focus on people outside our community.”ii

I can quickly give mental assent to this description of the Kingdom. It’s chock-full of missional-incarnational-community language that I’ve been steeped in as an apprentice of Cam Roxburgh over the years. But a life of communion, community and mission—living as a citizen of King Jesus’ realm—is not just a proposition I give a nod to, or a neat box for explaining a spiritual truth.

Choosing citizenship means action. It means intentionally striding toward the narrow gate (Matthew 7:13-14). And it means shedding all other attachments and allegiances in order to squeeze through that hole in the wall.

The authors of the TK Primer explain it this way:

“Nothing good ever comes easy. For sure, nothing of God’s Kingdom comes without resistance from our personal kingdoms or the world’s kingdom. Nothing of the Spirit of God comes without a good ol’ fashioned bar fight from our flesh….

God’s ways are natural, but they aren’t easy—especially at first. New ways of life must be formed in us through hours, days, and years of intentional practice. The future of your own faith and the incarnational presence of your community is ultimately about letting the Spirit of God re-orient everything about you.”iii

A Picture of Citizenship
This citizenship process is difficult, but not impossible. In Acts 2, we get a clear and beautiful glimpse of what happens when God’s people surrender to His Spirit and His Kingdom way; the Good News that God offers Himself to all is proven when He empowers those who say yes to respond by offering their all.

 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:37-47).

The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Wow. Yes please, Lord! So how does the Kingdom advance in this passage? Notice what begins to happen when hearers of the Good News let the Gospel take over in their own lives. It infiltrates every area of their devotion and action, and soon other people start to notice. And then those other people begin to surrender their all to living in the Good News of the Kingdom and the Spirit-led cycle continues.

Peter shows us the need for clear preaching and admonition, but this movement exploded because people believed what he said about Jesus with not only their minds, but their hearts and voices and wallets and calendars and homes and refrigerators. That’s evangelism.

Devoted. Everyday. Everyone. Everything.
I’ve read and prayed through this passage so many times over the years because it’s this type of abundant life that I covet for my family and my church and my neighbourhood. But when I opened again to Acts 2 the other day, God’s Spirit nudged me to consider whether I myself am living as a devoted citizen of God’s Kingdom. The conversation went like this:

Spirit: “All the believers were together.”

Cailey: “You mean, like, in the-same-place-spending-time-together type of together? Or emotionally together—like a shared purpose?”

Spirit: “All the believers were together. Every day they continued to meet together.”

Cailey: “I can dig it! With a few people. I’m kind of introverted, as you obviously know.”

Spirit: “All the believers were together.”

Cailey: “Like, the ones I get along with?”

Spirit: “Nope. All.”

Cailey: “How about the ones I know I can trust?”

Spirit: “Nope. All. Trust Me.”

Cailey: “How about the ones who have the same core value statements?”

Spirit:  “They had everything in common.”

Cailey: “You mean like they lent each other their stuff?”

Spirit: “Yes. And they shared their pain. And their joy. And their love for the place where I planted them. That’s why they sold property to give to anyone as they had need.”

Cailey: “As in, when they could afford it they gave offerings to support people who were trying to get back on their feet.”

Spirit: “No. I mean they sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”

Cailey: “What if they don’t deserve it?”

Spirit: “What do you deserve?”

Cailey: “Touché, Lord. But what if they misuse the gift?”

Spirit: “If you’re asking that question, it wasn’t a gift.”

Cailey: “I don’t think I can do this.”

Spirit: “That’s why you have them! And Me!”

The Gospel news of God’s presence, His reign, and His constant, all-out search has been the reality since the beginning of time and is the reality today. Yes, one day we will have fully-realized heavenly life when the darkness of sin and separation from God no longer seeks to block out the warmth and light of Christ and the radiance of His Bride (us living together in the unity of the Spirit). But the Kingdom is already among us, as Jesus declared and His people have been declaring for twenty centuries.

When we—the citizens of that Kingdom—submit ourselves to the reign of the King, aligning our will with His, our very lives will point to this Good News, and our “evangelistic” declaration of truth will no longer be a hollow and awkward statement of beliefs, but a simple and natural explanation of why and how our lives are marked with contagious and brilliant Light. Sounds like good news to me!

Next week, we’ll jump into Advent by taking a look at some of the Old Testament promises and prophecies about Jesus, and the strong thread of a Kingdom of Justice that winds its way throughout history and Jesus’ teachings while He was here on earth.


i. Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, The Tangible Kingdom Primer: An Eight-Week Guide to Incarnational Community (CRM Empowering Leaders: 2009): 202.

ii. Graphic and quote from Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, The Tangible Kingdom Primer: An Eight-Week Guide to Incarnational Community (CRM Empowering Leaders: 2009): 201

iii. Ibid: viii.

A Story of Faithful Presence and Hot Chocolate

At Banff Pastors Conference last week, Aaron Hansen, Pastor of Mission, Outreach and Youth at First Baptist Church in Cranbrook, BC, shared this story with us about how FBC Cranbrook has been “stumbling” towards becoming a faithful presence in their community.

Do you have a story from your neighbourhood? We’d love to hear it and share it as we strive to, like iron sharpening iron, encourage and inspire one another towards following Jesus into the homes and hearts of our neighbours.

Halloween Hospitality
By Aaron Hansen

A number of years ago, as a church we decided that “Acting on what God is calling us to do or be within our neighbourhoods” was going to be one of our guiding statements. So, since that time, and likely before it too, we have slowly… clumsily… accidentally been taking steps in this direction towards engaging our neighbourhoods. Our latest step was to think about how to care for our neighbours during what can be a long, cold evening in our area: Halloween.

Our Children and Families Pastor, Natasha, brought forward a bunch of different ideas that we could try as a church, and one of them was Halloween Hot Spots. The idea was simple: offer trick-or-treaters and their parents hot chocolate to warm up with. So this year we tried it!

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We had about eight different stations in neighbourhoods around our city. Hosts set up tables outside their home and welcomed all who came by a chance to be warmed. They got to meet their neighbours and all who participated reported how much fun they had doing this simple act.

There were no reports of mass conversions, just the continued conversion of regular Christ followers to the message of loving their neighbour as themselves. These hosts are now challenged to continue to pray for the people who live around them and to be a faithful presence in that community.

What’s next for your congregation or small group as you look for ways God is at work in your neighbours and seek to participate? Perhaps a Cranbrook-esque “Holiday Cheer Drop-In” or a wider invitation to your New Years Eve party will be the spark that ignites friendships and care among your neighbours?

Live from Banff

By Shannon Youell and Cailey Morgan

Greetings from Banff!

We’re having a great time with many of you and many new friends enjoying the beautiful snow-caps mountains and the joy of hearing–over good food, of course–stories of God on the move in our churches.

 

Along with both gentle and exhortative words that speak to our shared heart and struggles we face as church leaders, our speakers have been guiding and encouraging us to look first to theology (who God is) as the framework for our ecclesiology (how we live out our faith as a church family).

A recurring theme from keynote Cam Roxburgh is the hopeful remark that our ecclesiological culture is starting to shift towards reengagement with the “blue ocean” segment of Canada’s population of those who don’t yet follow Christ. Blue ocean refers to the increasingly secular reality of our society: many do not feel a need for faith, or are even hostile to the Gospel. As Colin Godwin shared with us today, it seems that we are not so much the persecuted church here in Canada but the ignored church.

Like the story of Jonah that Jeff Gullacher has been unraveling for us this week, we can find ourselves in “pouty self-indignation,” completely missing the point of our calling which is joining in God’s missional heartbeat.

The pathway to reengagement that God our loving Father opens for us is one of honest, responsive repentance and relearning how to act out of His redemptive nature, joining Him on mission.

One resource that has been helpful for us as we process what it means to see ecclesiology through a theological lens is Brad Brisco’s ebook Rethink. We commend this book to you, and have made it available here on the blog for you, with permission from Brad. Let us know what you think!

My Gospel Questionnaire Part 2: What’s Good News to You?

By Shannon Youell

When I pick up my newspaper at end of my driveway each morning, I walk back glancing at the headlines to see what catches my attention the most. Those are the stories I want to read first. What is the story underneath the headline?

Were I to pick up my newspaper and see the headline: “Good News! Becky Morgan found her lost hamster,” I would think, “well that’s nice.” And indeed, it is good news for Becky. But it doesn’t affect how I approach the rest of my day, let alone my tomorrows.

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Or how about the headline this summer announcing that Canada had just purchased the Trans Mountain pipeline? That was good news for some, but not such good news for others who opposed it.

However, if the headline read that scientists had discovered the cure to eradicate all cancer, this would indeed be good news for many—if not all—of us. This story changes everything in regards to the ravishing of these diseases. This news gives hope for those who have the disease and relief for those who may find themselves or their loved ones in this place in the future.

Good news is something that has happened that impacts what is happening to them/around them, and will change what is yet to happen.

The Good News of God’s “Is-ness”
Those of us who have heard and believed good news that changed everything can likely pinpoint the aspect of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God that penetrated to the depths of our very souls. For some, it was the release from guilt and shame that the good news offers forgiveness into. For others, it was the aspect that God loves you; that God has always been looking for you; that you are not abandoned.

Others found the good news first in emotional, psychological or physical healing–  demonstration that God truly is, and, in his is-ness, God is actively stepping into the darkest places of our souls with a holistic healing that begins to transform thinking, actions, motivations and the lens through which life is viewed.  Some who have lived in rejection intersected the good news by being accepted, welcomed, given dignity, value and voice regardless of what separated them from both community and God.

These are but a few spaces where the good news intersects with God’s beloved image-bearers.

In Jesus’ encounters with people throughout his ministry, he found the intersection between the story of the person he was engaging and the Big Story of God. To the thief on the cross, good news was that he was forgiven, absolved, and entering with Jesus into a transformed reality of both an immediate and a future of restored relationship with God and with God’s community. God had not forsaken him after all, no matter what lies he had accepted and lived by.

For the cripple, the blind man, the woman with the issue of blood, the good news was that because Jesus had healed them, they could now be included by a community that treated them unlovable. This because was the catalyst for those to have their eyes opened to see Jesus as Lord and Savior as they recognized that only God-with-them could deliver them from the darkness of their world.

Fluency In the Good News 
I believe our world is hungry for good news. Even as we lament the growing secularity in our nation and our world, the hunger for connecting with something greater than ourselves, that has the best interest and future for humanity does not wane. In fact, it seems to increase.

To engage in conversations with our not-yet-followers-of-Jesus family, friends and acquaintances, we must increase our fluency in the amazing good news that God is looking for us?  Can we develop our listening skills and our care for, the stories we tell one another and listen to, always opening up the space of inviting Jesus as Lord into the very stories themselves. Can we thicken our understanding of the Gospel to see where Kingdom and salvation are co-existing aspects of God’s very good news and are both being realized here on earth as in heaven?

How we share the good news, and which aspect of the gospel is any one person’s entry point, requires us to be good listeners to truly hear where people’s stories, the place they find themselves in their current reality, intersects with God’s kingdom plan of Shalom of flourishing humanity that reflects God’s heart in how we love God, love others and love our world and submit ourselves to inviting Jesus into the situations where we see the miracle of Jesus is Lord reach deep down to connect with us in the midst.

On a personal note, I came to faith because I experienced God looking for me. The realization that, a) God was real (which was the initial question I asked “to the air”) and b) that this real God was looking for me was incredibly good news to me. It was this aspect of the gospel that then drew me to Jesus.

Those door-to-door evangelists had no impact on me with their “do you want to spend eternity in heaven or hell?” tracts. These were not things that concerned me. But the very existence of God looking for me was the perfect entry point for me.  That doesn’t mean that those approaches are wrong or obsolete. Rather, if we desire to be sharers of the thick gospel of the Kingdom of God through Jesus, we need to listen well for natural entry points. Everybody believes in something; even if their belief system is “nothing,” that’s still a thing!  It is here that we look to the Big Story for the intersection with that and begin.

Again, good news is something that has happened that impacts what is happening to them/around them, and will change what is yet to happen. 

Why do I write this on a church planting blog?  Because churches are planted as people who did not previously follow Jesus hear the good news in a way that connects them to God and the big story of God interacting with humanity. From there, discipleship communities grow into the places and spaces we live.

My Gospel Questionnaire, Part 1: How Jesus Put it

By Shannon Youell

One of the things I like to do is ask Christians “what is the gospel?” I don’t do it because I enjoy watching people squirm, but rather because these reactions show how those of us who are followers of Jesus have a hard time articulating the very thing we are commanded to proclaim.

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So, I’ve been doing a survey. For about ten years now. It goes something like this:

“What is the gospel? What is the good news that Jesus ushered in?” 

I’ve asked it of long-time Christians and new believers alike. More often than not, the answers range from explaining that the gospels are the first four books of the New Testament; or the gospel is the Creed; or the Gospel is summarized in four spiritual laws. Certainly we find aspects of the good news in all of those answers.

But there’s a follow up to question one:

Is our articulation of this gospel—this good news announced by angels, proclaimed by Jesus as the news of the kingdom now near us, among us, with us; of the fulfillment of prophecies that spoke of good news—actually heard as good news? 

It’s the question everyone should be wrestling with—because we should be able to talk about good news that, when shared with others, actually sounds like good news to them. To do so requires us to first look back at the historical Jesus and what He meant and what His hearers understood as “good news.”

When Jesus stepped out of His ordinary life into the spotlight, He said these things:

Repent.
The kingdom of God has come near.
Come follow me.

The story continues by telling us that “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria….” (Matthew 4:23, 24a).

The people who heard Jesus make these statements had an embedded understanding of what was being said to them because Jesus used concepts that meant something to them. The context, of course is their story, the story of Israel from the beginning and including their current occupied state.

The term gospel or good news had a known meaning. It was used as a heralding that a new king had battled an oppressive king. This new king would change everything about their lives. He had saved them from the results of that oppression and promised them peace and justice, both in the immediacy of the near future and into the future beyond.

When Jesus told those who heard Him that “the kingdom of God was near,” this was what they understood it would look like. The term “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God,” had an embedded understanding that comes both out of the story of God and his people, Israel and their understanding of the royal pronouncement of Good News represented.

So when the Jewish people heard John the Baptist and Jesus speak the phrases “good news” and “the kingdom of God has come near,” their ears immediately perked up. Here is something they’ve been waiting for, looking for. It had deep meaning to them even if many of them became disappointed and then many more disillusioned, that it wasn’t a power exchange that led to some kind of political domination.

They also recognized and understood that good news is only good news if there is a king.  They were anticipating God’s movement of anointing a new king to His kingdom who would be the deliverer of salvation for all peoples. Thus those who heard this pronouncement looked towards the one in whom the pronouncement was focused. Without the anointed king, there could be no kingdom, so the good news was the victorious king.

Thus, Peter’s epiphany–that Jesus Himself is the Messiah, the saving King who will come to usher in God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven–became those first followers’ battle cry.  It is because Jesus is that King, that Lord, that salvation from the oppressiveness of fallen humanity has broken into reality.

It is because Jesus is Lord that the sick are saved from sickness because mercy and justice are now upon them; that the “sinners” (literally “outsiders”) can be welcomed into the kingdom; that enemies can imagine what it looks like to love one another; that forgiveness can dominate and shape our thinking and actions towards one another; that we can now be in the presence of God who never stops looking for His lost children and be restored to relationship with Him and with community.

This was the rich, deep, joyful good news that pierced the hearts and souls of those who both heard and received it. It tangibly touched the aspects of their lives that were most separated from community relationships and from relationship with God their creator. It was so big that everyone with humbled hearts and willingness to rethink what they thought they already understood about God and themselves, could find a place of entry made possible by Jesus the King, Jesus their Lord. Good news indeed!

Tune in next week as we discuss what this good news means in our world today.

The Thick Gospel

By Shannon Youell

In the prayer of Jabez, the line that I’ve oft heard prayed when church folk gather to pray, about growth, evangelism and engaging their communities is the prayer for God to bless and enlarge our territory, our areas of influence in our neighbourhoods, schools, workplaces and cities.

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As Christ followers, this cry should become part of the DNA of our new person selves and the communities we gather to worship and serve in. Though this verse is not exactly prayed in the context of sharing the good news of God’s Kingdom among us, uttering it in those prayer meetings is full of that intention. We do sincerely long to see God’s Kingdom light shine where darkness still holds people prisoner in its grasp of deception and isolation from the Creator of all things.

Where we get stuck, though, is how do we do that? Most of us would honestly acknowledge that our usual methods of evangelism are not received as good news to many in our current world.  In this fall series we want to expand our language and understanding around our concept of gospel, Kingdom and justice. These are not three separate aspects but rather intertwined within the good news story that God Himself has fulfilled in and through Jesus our Lord.  As we experience a renewed “thickening”  of the Gospel, we may be surprised how that expansion naturally leads us to activity in God’s Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven where God’s shalom, His ministry of justice, peace, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration becomes the prayer on our lips daily.

You may wonder what this has to do with church planting, since this is the church planting blog. The one word answer is EVERYTHING.  The early Christians formed communities that grew to established communities of disciples by sharing the amazing good news that Jesus is Lord and Savior, and those hearers well understood the implicit and explicit implications of that good news in their lives and circumstances. We plant new churches to receive new believers, to disciple those new believers and one another (I like the phrase “to gospel one another”), to celebrate God’s goodness to His creation and to invite others to find how their story intersects with God’s story and completes them and the community they are welcomed into.

Resources
One of the resources we are recommending is a bundle of primers that, though they are specifically targeted on particular aspects of gospel, kingdom and justice, have been helpful for many pastors/leaders in beginning to explore deepening our understanding and our level of engagement in the Good News. These primers are meant to be used as group discovery, utilizing story and dialogue, scripture and prayer, confession and repentance.

The Gospel Primer helps frame what is the story we should be telling, how do we tell that story in such a way that our listeners ‘hear’ it, and our own understanding of the dynamic of the Gospel in our own everyday lives and choices.   Concepts include the idea of apprenticeships that move us beyond what we know about the Gospel into greater engagement in action with the Gospel; Gospeling as an action and something faith communities do with one another and those who do not yet know God is looking for them; Gospel Fluency in which how we “speak and display the gospel…leads us to transformation and restoration; Identity as those who trust in Christ; Gospel Listening which is where we learn to actively listen to the story of others and discern what is Good News for that person in their story; and patterns and rhythms to help us move away from separation of our faith life and our world life (sacred and secular divide).

The Tangible Kingdom Primer helps our faith community view our calling to be on mission with Jesus—joining the family business, as Cailey likes to say. It takes us through such reflections as What is community; Living Out and Inviting In; What is incarnational; and What is missional. This is not a primer with a model or program of evangelism that we do to people. It is ways to create room and pathways so that the gospel touches into the real lives of people in such a way as to draw them into relationships with God and with others and restored to a community where God’s shalom—His healing, salvation, love, justice, peace are evident and active.

The Justice Primer is an eight-week guide to serving through community. It serves to build on our understanding that living a Gospel life includes action oriented towards those within our faith community and those in our neighbourhoods, schools and cities. The idea is how we “become good news” to the people in our community by living fully the mission Jesus calls each and everyone one of us to. This is not just about social justice and action but how it apprentices us to grow in Christ likeness and mission.

We will have a copy of each for you to take a look at during the Banff Pastors Conference, and you can purchase them online from the publisher here or at some Christian book retailers.

Give Thanks for He is Good!

By Shannon Youell

We have so much to be thankful for. We really do.

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A large part of the work we have done in Church planting this year has been with churches that have formed and are forming around people new to Canada. It is a privilege to work with people from cultures we are not that familiar with, as we are blessed to share in their friendship, their cultures, their journeys of often unimaginable magnitude, and their rootedness in God-with-them in the midst of it all.

Often, it is these folk who remind us of the goodness of the land we live in and that we should never take our relatively comfortable and privileged existences for granted. As “old” Canadians, we have much to learn with and from our new brothers and sisters who now come to us, and share together with us the very human struggles of the trials and sorrows of life in a broken creation, finding hope through faith, in this land of plenty, and in friends new and old.

When God created all things, He looked upon them and declared that they are good, very good.  The Hebrew word “good” is translated tov. Rather than our Greco-Roman understanding of good as directed toward the subject being named “good,” tov understands goodness to being “tied together,” inter-connected, relationally dependent on those ties.  In Metalanguage in Interaction, Yael Maschler highlights that tov is “inherently relational; a word that occurs in the context of relationship” (Quoted from footnotes in The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper).

This understanding of good/goodness as interactive broadens my understanding of gratitude and thankfulness. The very act of being grateful and thankful connects–even richer: interconnects–us with God, with creation, with others.  Thus we find God’s goodness and faithfulness in one another as we journey together.

Poet Malcolm Guite, in his volume Sounding the Seasons, gifts us with this poem of thanksgiving:

Thanksgiving starts with thanks for mere survival,
Just to have made it through another year
With everyone still breathing. But we share
So much beyond the outer roads we travel;
Our interweavings on a deeper level,
The modes of life embodied souls can share,
The unguessed blessings of our being here,
Threads of connection no one can unravel.
So I give thanks for our deep coinherence,
Inwoven in the web of God’s own grace,
Pulling us through the grave and gate of death.
I thank him for the truth behind appearance,
I thank him for his light in every face,
I thank him for us all, with every breath.

As God’s children, we are interconnected, and for this I am ever so grateful for this Thanksgiving.  It is a gift to be ‘good’ with each and every one of you.  “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good (tov); his love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1).

May the tov of the Lord shine on us all, in us all, and through us all, for the glory and renown of our gracious God.  Happy Thanksgiving friends.