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Living Missionally in a Post-Christian World

Several Sunday’s ago we began painting a picture for you of the vision of our church.  As we talked about the desire to see every individual have a faith that is Personal, Growing, and Serving, we shared with you the framework that we would use to help us give direction to our ministry moving forward. As you may recall, that framework consisted of 4 words that all started with the letter “M”.  We desire to be a church that is Multi-generational, Multi-cultural, Multiplying, and Missional. This morning I want to dig a little deeper into what it means for us to be a Missional church as we consider our seventh and final core value, “Missional Living”.

Core Value #7: Missional Living

We seek to appropriately engage cultures (both here and abroad) by permeating them as equipped worshippers whose lives are defined by the mission – in all that we do.”

In order for us to understand this idea of “Missional Living” more clearly, I want to ask you to turn with me in your Bibles to Jeremiah 29 and let’s look together at verses 4-7.

If I could, before we read the text, I’d like to take a moment to set the context of these verses. Jeremiah was a prophet established during the reign of King Josiah, who was the last faithful king in Judah’s history.  Following Josiah’s death we begin to see serious decline in the nation of Judah in most every way (spiritually, morally, politically, etc.). It wouldn’t take long before the Babylonians would eventually lead the nation of Judah into captivity, which is the environment in which this letter is written. Here in chapter 29 we find an incredible exhortation to the Israelites regarding their captivity and how they were to live amongst the Babylonians. Now, the Babylonians had a specific strategy they sought to employ in order to oppress the nation of Judah.  Their goal wasn’t to drive them out of their land or to enslave them.  The goal of the Babylonians was to “assimilate” them into their culture. The Babylonians would bring them into Babylon and say, “live with us, experience all the good our land and culture has to offer, the only stipulation is you have to become like us.”  Their goal over time was to have the Israelites become indistinguishable from them. The net result would be their extinction. Now it’s in the context of their captivity that we find these profound words to the exiles in Babylon.

Jeremiah 29:4-7

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.  But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

As we hear these revolutionary words (words I’m sure that blew their minds) regarding how they were to live in Babylon, I pray that we will see how truly revolutionary they are for us we consider what it means for us to live missionally.

As we consider Jeremiah’s words to the exiles in Babylon and our core value of Missional Living, I want to clearly lay out for us the challenge that lay ahead for our church.

The Challenge before us:

We need an awareness that we live in a post-Christian culture (appropriately engage cultures). When the captives from the nation of Judah entered Babylon they found a city that was filled with exiles from other nations.  It was a city where many gods were worshipped and where different codes of ethics were adhered to.  So think about this for the Israelites and the perspective they must have had being in this foreign land and pagan culture. Yet, what we see transpiring here in Babylon is not all together different from the ever changing cultural landscape in which we live today. Think of the different cultures represented right here in our community along with the various religious traditions that accompany them. Let me share with you what might be some surprising information:

According to recent census information, there are actual decreases in Anglo, African American, Asian Indian, Japanese and Korean populations.

There are significant increases in Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese and Hispanic populations.

The largest increase was Hispanics, then Vietnamese, Filipino, and lastly Chinese.

Within the same report was a profile of selected social characteristics that revealed the number of immigrants that entered the Triad before 1990 was 23,547.  The number of immigrants that entered from 1990 or later were 61,373.  Winston-Salem and Davie County are becoming increasingly more diverse.  Along with the increased diversity we see our culture experiencing, we also realize our culture is becoming increasingly less Christian. Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY wrote:

The moral teachings of Christianity have exerted an incalculable influence on Western civilization.  As those moral teachings fade into cultural memory, a secularized morality takes its place.  Once Christianity is abandoned by a significant portion of the population, the moral landscape necessarily changes.  [For the better part of the twentieth century, the nations of Western Europe led the way in the abandonment of Christian commitments.  Christian moral reflexes and moral principles gave way to the loosening grip of Christian memory.  Now, even that Christian memory is absent from the lives of millions.”

He would go on to write:

In candor, we must admit that the Church has been displaced.  Once an authoritative voice in the culture, the Church is often dismissed, and even more often ignored.  At one time, the influence of the Church was sufficient to restrain cultural rebellion against God’s moral commandments, but no longer.  The dynamic of the culture-shift marches onward…the worldview of most Americans is now thoroughly secularized, revolving around the self and its concerns, and based on relativism as an axiom.  We Americans have become our own best friend, our own therapist, our own priest, and our own lawgiver.  The old order is shattered, the new order is upon us.”[1]

If we are going to live missionally then we must acknowledge the changes in our culture.  We have to see the changing culture as it is without compromising the gospel, and look to permeate the culture in ways in which the barriers to the gospel can be broken. Furthermore, as we see the changes in culture, we need to be confident and assured!

We need confidence in God’s sovereignty over culture/circumstances. It might be our tendency to despair as we look at the spiritual landscape of our community.  We must remember, however, that God is sovereign over all our circumstances, including what we may feel is the demise of our culture.  Therefore as we permeate our culture, we do so with great confidence, for no part of our {circumstances/cultural condition} is a surprise to God. In verse 4 we’re reminded of God’s sovereignty over Israel’s circumstances.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon…

This letter, which was being written to the Babylonian captives, reminded them that their captivity was fully in the hands of the Lord.  Their captivity was God ordained and the result of their spiritual adultery. It was important for the Israelites to see, and for us also, that Nebuchadnezzar’s dominion did not reside outside of the providence of God. Make no mistake, the culture we live in today is different from the culture our parents and grandparents lived in.  Yet even with the change in culture along with its decline in Christian values and influence, I am no less hopeful than I have ever been.  Christ is still on His throne!  He still reigns supreme! He will accomplish His will for our nation and our world, bringing every knee in heaven and on earth to worship Him.  So, as we live on mission, we do so in the supreme confidence that God is sovereign and in the process of fulfilling His redemptive plan. But may we not miss what we are called to do.  Look with me again at verses 5-6:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.”

The exiles should plan for a long stay and, while there, they should increase!

Now as we consider the implications of verses 5-6, look also with me at verse 8:

For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.”

There was a false prophet named Hananiah who had prophesied in chapter 28 that the exiles in Babylon would only be there for a short period of time before God delivered them from their oppression.  The Lord says, “Not so!”  If they were there for only a short time, their tendency would have been to look out only for themselves, to seek their own well being, to withdraw from the culture they found themselves in and create their own subculture.

The Lord reminded them they would not be there for a short period, and while in Babylon they were to seek the flourishing of their community. We need to seek the flourishing of our community. Look at verse 7:

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

welfare = shalom = peace

Peace = total flourishing in every dimension (socially, economically, physically, spiritually)

We can seek the welfare of our city because of what Christ has done in us and the example He is to us.  For as we think of what it means to seek the flourishing of our community we recognize how Christ serves as our ultimate example of what it means to seek the flourishing of others.

He pursues us! Christianity differs from all other religions in that it’s the story of God coming to man verses man coming to God. I read a beautiful quote by J.R.R. Tolkien this week.

As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and steady pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by his divine grace.  And though in sin or in human love, away from God it seeks to hide itself, divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to him alone in that never ending pursuit.”[2]

He identifies with us our humanity. Christ had a real body, felt real pain, had real emotions. He put on flesh and dwelt among us. He gives life to us (resulting in our flourishing). Christ came to glorify the Father by giving us spiritual life. Remember Jesus’ words in John 10:10:

The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy.  I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

The “life” He gives to us comes through His “suffering.” With our identity firmly found in Christ’s righteousness…with our hope fully dependent on His finished work on the cross, we can now look to the flourishing of others, in particular those within our community. We no longer need the community to validate us.  We no longer have to make a name for ourselves.  We can genuinely care for others. We mustn’t forget that God’s promise is that all of creation will be restored and will ultimately flourish.  All things bad will come undone and He will create a new heaven and new earth.  So, it’s not just that Christ’s life leads to spiritual flourishing!  It leads us to see that flourishing will take place in every arena of life. Now, as the Scripture has challenged us to do, we can pray for the flourishing of all within our community recognizing that the flourishing of all will result in flourishing us.

We need to see there is no sacred/secular divide (permeating culture as worshippers in all we do). Matthew 5:14-16:

You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

James Davison Hunter in his book To Change the World wrote:

“People fulfill their individual and collective destiny in the art, music, literature, commerce, law, and scholarship they cultivate, the relationships they build, and in the institutions they develop—the families, churches, associations, and communities they live in and sustain—as they reflect the good of God and his designs for flourishing…To be Christian is to be obliged to engage the world, pursuing God’s restorative purposes over all of life, individual and corporate, public and private.  This is the mandate of creation.”[3]

Reflections:

  1. Allow gospel talk to become normative, always assuming non-believers are present.
  2. Use wisdom to evaluate the culture
    1. What can be embraced / what needs to be rejected / what needs to be adapted?
  3. Speak and model Christ centered love with those whom we deeply disagree
  4. Model compassion and pursue justice without compromising the gospel
  5. Commit to sharing life in community with others and thus modeling the kingdom

[1] Al Mohler, “Transforming Culture: Christian Truth Confronts Post-Christian America”, www.almohler.com, March 3, 2008

[2] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Neuman Press Book of Verse.

[3] James Davidson Hunter, To Change the World, (p.4-5)

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