Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Becoming Good News People First

TITLE: BECOMING GOOD NEWS PEOPLE FIRST
AUTHOR: Conrade Yap
DATE: 26 Jan 2010

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

A) Which Comes First? Speak the Good News or Live the Good News?

Nanette Sawyer was raised in rural New York. He attends a traditional church which to him, teaches a form of theology that is ‘shame-based.’ Like many churches, the minister there insists that he ‘had to believe’ in order to be a Christian. Despite not understanding what some of the doctrines mean, he decides to consciously make a decision for Christ, in order to be accepted into the Church. While this is a normal thing to do for most people, Sawyer feels that such an approach addresses more of the ‘letter’ rather than the ‘spirit’ of the Christian belief. He never truly understands the meaning of what a Christian means, until he encounters Wicker Park Grace church.

I started showing up at that church on Sundays. This church was so different from the church of my childhood, because they welcomed me without asking for my Christian ID card, so to speak. They just welcomed me, pure and simple. They preached and lived a message of grace, emphasizing that we are all beloved children of God. Eventually, I was baptized in that church and felt my call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament in that church.” – Nanette Sawyer, Chicago. 

(Eddie Gibbs & Ryan Bolger, Emerging Churches, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006, 302)

Sawyer’s story is increasingly common among people who have left traditional churches to discover the grace of God in non-traditional places. From a nominal Christian environment that insists on a ‘Christian ID’ before anything else, he feels a special acceptance by a community of believers who sees the ‘person’ before the ‘profession.’ Such a treatment is liberating for people who feels overly controlled by structure and tradition.

B) First Things First
Lest I be misunderstood, I am not saying that structure and tradition are unimportant or irrelevant for our contemporary age. It is simply that they must not come before the need to care and love people. In fact, traditions and structures are extremely important and are crucial for the church identity, to bear the testimony of Christ for the long haul. The difference is in terms of recognizing the spirit behind the letter. If we are not careful, we can become bearers of the message of Christ, without truly being converted by the Spirit of God. John writes,
We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
Taking this perspective from John, we cannot truly love another, until we have been loved. With Christ having first loved us, we can then share this love with people around us with grace and humility. If our jug is empty, how can we pour water for the thirsty? If our fridge is bare, how can we prepare food for the hungry? Likewise, if we are not filled with the good news first, empowered by the Holy Spirit, how can we proceed to share the good news with others? In other words, my main point for this week is that we are to be ‘Good News People’ inside before we can learn to share the Good News to people outside. Our external works that demonstrate Christ's love can be more powerful than our human words. It is easy to preach the gospel in words, but it takes a real authentic disciple of Christ to preach the gospel in real life.

C) The Problem of External Facade

Our society places too much premium on the external to the detriment of the internal. Look at the fashion industry. People need to look good on the outside so as to make a good first impression. From interviews to social outings, adding make-up turns an ordinary pauper into an extraordinary prince. Very subtly, it creates in people a kind of thinking that external looks can lead to internal satisfaction. Yet, there are beautiful women who end up in terrible marriages. They are handsome men who attract all the wrong attention. There are successful career people, achieving a lot in the office, but fails miserably at home. External façade may dress up weaknesses for a little while. Like the famous fairy tale, at the stroke of midnight, beautifully dressed Cinderella turns back into a poor girl in ugly clothes. Looking good on the outside does not mean we are automatically good on the inside. Just ask the executives of Enron prior to their financial collapse.

D) Becoming a Good News Person: Journey of Inside-Out Growth

What does it take to be a Good News Christian first before we can share the good news? In other words, how do we live an ‘inside-out’ life as opposed to an ‘outside-in’ culture? Let me propose a three-step grace process. It is easy to embrace Stage #1, not so easy to practice stage #2, even more difficult to live out Stage #3. Look at the graph below. Let me make 3 observations.







Firstly,all of us can receive the grace of God freely without reservation and without conditions. Grace is free of charge, and not tied to any rules and regulations. Grace has no conditions. We need to acknowledge that we are sinners, and no matter what we do, we cannot save ourselves. We need God. We need to be forgiven in Christ. It is because all of us have sinned and fall short of God's glory, we all need the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Stage #1: Many receive grace; It is easy to receive grace.

Secondly, we demonstrate our state of being saved by grace, by learning to be gracious to others. There is a strange unbalanced equation going on. The richer a society gets, the less gracious it tends to be. I remember in my mission trip to the rural mountains. People there have very little but they share all they have. On my return home to the city, people have a lot, but are miserly in many ways. I cannot help but think of the New Testament Church whose members share freely and readily with one another in spite of the little they have. We do not need a lot of things in order to be gracious to one another. What we need is a lot of heart. 

There is someone who appears constantly to be in a state of need. All year round, this person will be claiming that the world around her is unfair, and she is constantly helpless. It is easy to accuse her of being overly self-centered. Yet, when I think of God, I remember that all of us are under grace. God alone has such a big heart, that he meets the needs of every single person. God too chooses to show grace to this person, despite the constant complaining and self-centered behaviour. Yet, God has a big heart. Who are we to judge this person?

All of us are needy people. All of us need grace. What we need to be reminded is that having a big heart is more important than having big gifts. Sometimes, rich people can have extremely small hearts. A big heart covers a multitude of suspicions and sins. A big-hearted Christian is what I call a ‘Good-News Person.’ A big-heart Christian understands what grace is all about. A gracious society is only possible if the people have big hearts.

Stage #2: Some people grow. Their growth is evident through gracious living.

My third observation has to do with the most advanced stage of the journey: #3 Sacrificial Love. This final step is perhaps the most difficult step. It is the epitome of what grace means. Living a life of true grace involves humility and at times the call to suffer. 

God led by example. When God gives grace to us, he does not simply command others to do it. He could have ordered angels and celestial beings to do his work. Yet, He chooses to send his Son, Jesus Christ down, at a personal cost and painful loss. Grace according to God is free for us, but very costly for him. Thus, as a Good-News person, while we receive grace freely, and to show graciousness in big-hearted ways, let us remember that true grace may require some element of suffering. A brother in Christ once said about true giving, at a fund-raising seminar, filled with rich and successful people. “Give until it hurts.” Ouch.

It reminds me of the rich young man who asks Jesus what is necessary for eternal life.

Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Matthew 19:21-22)

Stage #3: Very few people suffer (or willing to suffer). Sacrificial giving and living is a mark of a true disciple

It is necessary to become a Good News person before we start sharing the Good News. Perhaps, one of the reasons why we find it difficult to speak the gospel, is because we are still unchanged on the inside? The word ‘gospel’ also means good news. This is the essence of what a Christian life means. It must mean something to the person inside before he can share with people outside.


E) Final words
We need to become ‘good-news people’ before we share the good news with others. For all, including young believers, receive the grace of God freely without reservation (Stage #1). As we grow in age and maturity, let our lives be turned into gracious living, to freely share the love of God through our giving, our caring and our loving of one another, even strangers. Grow into God's likeness by being big-hearted with our possessions, putting people before things (Stage #2). Finally, remember that the grace we receive is not free. It costs us nothing but God everything, through his Son Jesus Christ. Thus, in wanting to be good-news people, are we ready to suffer for Christ, when the calling comes (Stage #3)? The choice is up to you. Like the rich young man who turns away from Jesus because he has many possessions, will we follow Christ to give up worldly entanglements, or to follow the world in pursuit of more entitlements? The choice is really yours.

sabbathwalk

You have to love them first. You can’t serve people whom you can’t love. I’m so emotionally involved with them. I’m in love with them, and it has been only eight months. I pray for them because I love them, That for me is huge! It is something I saw in Mother Teresa. I love them and then serve them, not because it is one of the five purposes of our church either.” – Joe Boyd.

(Gibbs & Bolger, Emerging Churches, 146)

Thought: It is easy to SAY we are Christians, even preach to others to become Christians. It is not so easy to let our lives speak Christianly, that when they see us, they too 'want' to become like Christ.




Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.

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