This past Sunday at The Story we heard the story of the Babel Builders (entitled: Settle Down”) found in Genesis 11. Often the Babel builders get a bit of a bad rap for being all about their own glory and power. What they really wanted to do was to make a name for themselves and be famous and somehow take God’s place. Well yes, sort of… but when we read the narrative what we find though is that their desire to make a name for themselves is not the goal. They want to build this great city in order to make a name for themselves SO THAT they will not be scattered over the face of the earth.
The thing that they want most is not fame or power or prestige; that is what they seek as a means to the end, which is not being scattered. Significantly this is exactly what God has commanded them to do. In Genesis 1:28 the first humans are told to be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. After the flood in Genesis 8&9 Noah is given a similar command. Implicit in the command to fill the earth is to fill the earth with God’s glory. It is as human’s created in the image of God take up the raw materials of His creation and “create and shape” his world that we display his goodness and his majesty. There is of course also a literal filling of the earth with people, as the commands to be fruitful and multiply imply.
Why do the Babel builders not want to be scattered? Ask yourself what would you prefer, being scattered over the face of the earth; or safety and security as a part of some great enterprise or some great city? What does the great city of Babel offer? Safety, security, provision, communal enterprise, prestige, comfort, a sense of belonging… stable work, safe place for the kids to grow up, good schools?
What does God’s command to scatter and fill the earth bring? Uncertainty, instability, insecurity, an unknown future, unknown provision, loneliness, fear of hostile neighbours or bandits and numerous other drawbacks. Life would certainly be easier in Babel.
Was it wrong for the Babel builders to desire these things? No. But they sought to be their own source of security, safety, provision, rest and certainty for the future. If they would instead choose to embrace the life of scattering they would have to find their security, their rest, their future hope, their provision and their name in God and God alone. As an aside: note that all the Babel builders attempts at self-preservation and self-provision are wiped out with one simple action by the God who spoke the world into being.
The God-following life today is still the life of scattering over the face of the earth. Was it not Jesus who told his disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations”? Our calling is still to fill the earth with the glory of God. Our call is still to scatter into all the unreached people groups of the world. Our call is still to scatter as communities of light into all the forgotten places and the dark corners of our cities and our communities.
But if we are honest most of us are more like the responsible, wise, Babel builders. Most of our parents would be delighted if we got a job with the ambitious, forward-thinking, innovative, new urban centre of our world. Stable income, pension, good schools, medical aid, good career prospects, safe neighbourhood for your kids, wise use of resources. Let’s be honest the Babel builders plans make sense. Of course they do they are our plans, our dreams our ambitions.
But everything we have seen in the story so far tells us that God is a good and a gracious God. In the midst of sin and chaos – he constantly shows mercy, provision, salvation, patience, goodness, peace, rest and hope for the future. The legacy of man’s ambitions are deceit, anger, jealousy, murder, boasting, snatching for power, shame, blame-passing, back-breaking labour, cursed ground and broken relationships. It might make rational sense to follow the example of the Babel builders and seek to secure our own future, but by faith we seek instead to follow the one who has secured both our future and our present through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.
Sadly, we mirror Babel not only in our private lives but in our church life too. Rather than being scattered into all the dark and broken places of our community, instead we choose to build our own sources of comfort and security. Our obsession with buildings betrays our unwillingness to scatter and fuels our need for legitimacy and respectability. We design our programmes and structures around the things we enjoy and our felt needs. We meet at times and in ways that suit us and our schedules.
Often we barely know the community surrounding us and our lives are filled up with Christian activities and Christian friends. Is it possible that just as the Babel builders refused the command to scatter and fill the earth with God’s glory, so we too have refused the call to scatter and fill up our communities and cities with the glory of God. Babel looks so much more respectable and legit than the scattered community of a Moving God.
This is a very interesting article by Mike Breen of 3DM. Lots of food for thought. Does anyone want to start a conversation on some of his thoughts?
Here are a couple of quotes I will be chewing on:
“You get a missional movement by starting a discipling movement. For too long we’ve had the missional conversation in lieu of the discipling conversation.”
“If you do discipleship, it means you’ll be creating leaders. Creating leaders rather than managing volunteers will make you re-think your Leadership conversation. And releasing Leaders into the missional frontier to make disciples will make you re-think you Missional conversation.”
“One of the things we try to ask worship leaders is this: “If you didn’t have an instrument and couldn’t sing, would everyone still see you as a leader in your church?” The sad fact is this isn’t often the case. Many worship leaders are hired guns and without the talent of their instruments or vocals, they would be little use to the church.”
“There has been so much talk about Missional Communities and discipleship in the last year, but people forget one grounding reality from the scriptures: In the New Testament, discipleship and mission always find their flourishing in an extended family. But in the last 100 years, we’ve really lost the extended family and we’ve lost the oikos on mission. (Oikos being the Greek word used in the New Testament for “households” that refers to the extended families existing as households on mission for the first 300 years of the life of the church).”
“If you don’t have Family on Mission, discipleship, leadership and mission aren’t possible. Family on Mission is the context needed for the rest to flourish. And at the end of the day, I want to be part of a movement that puts missional discipleship back into the hands of every-day people. You get that by learning Family on Mission.”
I shall confess…. I am a misfit.
I have never really fitted in with the church scene.
Don’t misunderstand me, this is not going to be one of those disgruntled with the church blogger type rants (at least I hope not).
I love the church!
When I read the Bible I find a picture of the church made in the image of our God. A church that reflects the character and the mission of our God. I read about a God who loves the unlovable; who shows grace to the undeserving, mercy to the merciless, who sends rain on the just and the unjust. I read the story of the King who used his power not to crush us or serve his own ambitions but to rescue us, to restore us and to give us new life and new birth into a living hope.
The church is not perfect but we are right now a foretaste of what God is at work doing. His Kingdom has now broken in and is at work saving and restoring a people, where the good and gracious reign of King Jesus can be seen. We are now a foretaste of God’s restored humanity. In the church we find a taste of what it means to be truly human… again.
In the Scriptures I find a picture of church far beyond my experience.
I find myself frustrated wishing it would be so much more. It could be so much more. It should be so much more.
Mostly I wish we were more radical in our love for lost people…
I am fully convinced that God does and can and will continue to use the contemporary/ traditional/mainstream (choose the most appropriate and least offensive description) church to preach the gospel, care for the broken, disciple believers, and reach the lost. I, for one, am a testimony to this.
Honestly I think that there are some great churches within easy driving (or walking) distance of where I live. They are reaching people and will continue to do so. But in all honesty, many of them are reaching the same kind of people. Even if they have a diversity of membership it is still largely a similar kind of diversity.
In a country as diverse as South Africa, and in a city as diverse as Cape Town we need to continually be thinking through our methodology and our church culture, asking ourselves – who are we reaching? And perhaps more significantly who are we not reaching?
The answer of course is not to be all things to all men in one structure. What we need are scattered communities of light willing to get into the nooks and crannies of our society, adopting the rhythms, and shape of their lives, meeting them on their terms and on their turf. Engaging them with the gospel of Jesus Christ, in word and in deed. And demonstrating through the shared life of the gospel community that it is good to live under the reign of King Jesus.
I suspect am a misfit because I did not grow up in a Christian family or breathing the unusual air of the pervasive Christian culture. I got saved in a culture of mission and I was discipled in a culture of mission. I admit I got lost in the whole church culture scene for a bit. But through some really tough circumstances I ended up out of the church culture for a bit. And I realised that I never want to go back…
Like I said I love the church and I love so many people who are part of the contemporary church scene. Some of them are doing some amazing thing and some of them are being used by God to do amazing things. But we have slowly (read kicking and screaming) made peace with the fact that God has called us to a different path. A path for misfits. I struggle to put words to it but somehow I have always gravitated to those on the fringes; the doubters, the strugglers, the broken, the sceptics.
For as long as I can remember I have always had a burden to reach those who are not being reached by others. I can clearly remember on Scripture Union camps asking for the “difficult” kids to be in my group and volunteering to be on duty to “baby-sit” the smokers because I knew it was most likely that most of these kids were not Christians. At one church I worked at as a youth pastor I remember another youth pastor telling me that my kids scared him a bit… I’m still not really sure what that was all about?
But something within me has always come alive when faced with those others deem too difficult, too broken, too lost. When I was a 19-year-old rookie camp leader, a man I greatly admired looked at me across the table one meal time and said, “John, God is going to use you to reach people the rest of us can only dream of reaching!”
Honestly, I never believed him. But as I look back over 15 plus years I can see unlooked-for echoes of those words throughout my life. I still don’t really know if I believe him but I now know I want it to be true.
And finally I think I am starting to be at peace with the unorthodox shape of our ministry. Finally I realise that sometimes it is a blessing to feel more alive outside with the smokers than inside singing with the saints. Sometimes God uses misfits too…
Let us never make the mistake that a degree alone makes a man fit for leadership in the church…
“The best training for a soldier of Christ is not merely a theological college. They always seem to turn out sausages of varying lengths, tied at each end, without the glorious freedom a Christian ought to abound and rejoice in. You see, when in hand-to-hand conflict with the world and the devil, neat little biblical confectionery is like shooting lions with a pea-shooter: one needs a man who will let himself go and deliver blows right and left as hard as he can hit, trusting in the Holy Ghost. It’s experience, not preaching that hurts the devil and confounds the world. The training is not that of the schools but of the market: it’s the hot, free heart and not the balanced head that knocks the devil out. Nothing but forked-lightning Christians will count. A lost reputation is the best degree for Christ’s service. It is not so much the degree of arts that is needed, but that of hearts, loyal and true, that love not their lives to the death: large and loving hearts which seek to save the lost multitudes, rather than guard the ninety-nine well-fed sheep in the British pen.”
I really loved this post by Trevin Wax:
“I guess that’s what I love most about my family. We are more passionate about each other than we are about our ideas. We’re united without being uniform.”
“During the past few weeks, we’ve all been cheering on my sister as she leads a Bible study with three unsaved women. We’ve been praying for my mom’s manicurist for years. Whenever we lead someone to the Lord, we celebrate over email. Dad is in his fifties, but he wants to plant a church to reach unbelievers. Grandpa may not go to movies, but he’s spending his retirement years printing Bibles for other countries. You see, the mission matters more than our family debates.”
“I wish denominations were a little more like family. I wish we’d sit across the table more often from precious saints who don’t always see things the same way. I wish our passion for each other was stronger than our passion for our pet preferences. I wish we’d cut each other some slack instead of nitpicking each other to death. And I wish the fervor of our denominational debates was matched by our fervor for evangelism.”
“We are family. Because of Christ’s death, we share the same bloodline. Because of Christ’s resurrection, we share the same power. Because of His ascension, we share the same mission. So let’s act like it. Let’s live in the unity Christ bought for us and love each other fiercely, even more fiercely than we sometimes disagree.”
This is a great little clip that the guys in Sheffield put together describing our life and vision.
Great little video clip with 3 very different people talking about what living as a community on mission looks like for them. The mom, the entrepreneur and the student…
I met a couple of these folk when I was in Sheffield in 2009 and enjoyed a couple of meals with both Belinda and with Phil.
Two interesting “factoids”:
1. Belinda (the mom) and her husband Guy’s house is looking better than I saw it last time. I had gone round to Tim Chester’s place for what I thought was another friendly chat about church and mission and my experiences at TCH when before I knew it I down the road at Guy & Belinda’s new house, lugging wood, rubble and other junk out to the soon-overflowing skip. As Tim reminded me, everybody loves the idea of community until you actually have to live like community. Lesson learnt.
2. Phil (the entrepreneur) is an Irishman who does not like beer??? But he does have the most seriously awesome basement (?) workshop/ lab/ lair to take over the world!
Colin recently made so good comments about the Spirit in 1 Peter. So it sent me back to my whiteboard, my scribbles and my Bible to try make some sense of it…
1) 1 v10-12 “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.”
The prophets spoke the gospel (“the suffering of the Messiah and the glories that would follow”) in advance through the Spirit of Christ in them.
2) 3v18-20 “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive,he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”
This is a very controversial verse, and its primary interpretative context must be the text of 1 Peter itself. In the flow of the book it seems to make sense to me (and I confess at this point I have done very little commentary work) to understand it in a similar vein to 1v10-12. Noah spoke the gospel in advance (3v18 is the immediate context) to the people of his day through the Spirit of Christ in him.
3) 1v12 “…the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.”
Those who preached the gospel (“the sufferings of the Christ and the glories that would follow” 1v11), did so by the Holy Spirit. This gospel is the fullness of God’s plan of redemption longed and searched for by the prophets and preached by Noah.
4) Christ himself is said to be “put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” And it is similar said of us that “this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead” that they may “live according to God in regard to the Spirit” (4v6). It is the Spirit who raises Jesus to life and who raises us to life and a living hope (1v3). We are raised for salvation and good work (1v2). Or put another way for reconciliation and restoration.
5) Finally in 4v14 Peter says “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” It is this same Spirit of Christ that rests on those who “participate in the sufferings of Christ” (4v13). It is through the Spirit of Christ that we participate in God’s Story (the suffering of Christ and the glories to be revealed in 4v13).
Summary: It is through the Spirit of Christ in/among us that we are called to participate in God’s great Story of redemption and reconciliation. Participation in God’s Story through the Spirit is participation in missional life and proclamation. That same Spirit who was at work in the life and words of the prophets (1v10-12), Noah (3v18-22), the apostles (1v12) is now at work in you. It is the same story, the same Christ at work and the same Spirit of mission that rests on you(4v12). The Spirit that has raised Christ to life (3v18) has given you a new life, a new identity (4v7; 2v9-10). Our new identity is to participate in the life and the mission of God’s Kingdom – through our lives together we (imperfectly) demonstrate the life of that Kingdom, a taste of the future, and through our words we speak of Christ, our rescuer and king (2v11-12; 3v15-16)