June 6th, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Postmodernism, Sermons, Theology
As you may know, the term ‘missional’ has become something of a buzzword. It’s a neologism I personally quite like; it’s the adjectival form of the noun ‘mission’ and thus serves as a catchword for a certain way of both being and living in the world vis-à-vis the non-Christian society around us.
There’s a lot talk these days about being more missional. But in my experience these conversations tend, frankly, to focus more on form than substance. All too often I find myself left with the impression that being missional has more to do with lighting candles, playing cool music, growing a soul-patch, preaching in jeans, and generally being just a bit edgy – than it does with living a life that is “self-controlled, upright and godly,” as Titus would have us (2:12).
I’m sensitive to not overstating my case, so let me ask: When was the last time anyone attended a conference for ‘missional’ churches and church leaders and discovered there that the key to missional outreach is the renunciation of sin and the full-throttled pursuit of holiness?
Yet, as I read Titus, here’s the irony. According to Titus, the most effective missional and congregational outreach is a corporate devotion to good works. As New Testament scholar Gordon Fee has rightly observed, the letter of Titus is thoroughly evangelistic in its thrust: throughout this letter Paul encourages behavior that will be attractive to the world; thus good works are for the sake of outsiders.
So while I’m on board with the need to be more missional – that is, to take seriously the cultural chasm that has developed between contemporary forms of Christianity and the surrounding post-Christian culture – I’m nevertheless increasingly convinced that the most effective prescription for being and becoming truly missional in any recognizably New Testament sense is to cultivate zeal for good works within the life of the church of Jesus Christ. Zeal for good works is as missional as it gets.
Our study in the book of Titus will, then, help us as a congregation learn how better to do that most missional of things: “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (2:10). So that the gospel of God looks more attractive and beautiful and winsome and ultimately compelling to outsiders.
November 20th, 2008 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Personal, Postmodernism, Sermons, Theology, Worship
At Calvary Memorial Church, we’ve been reflecting for the past several weeks on Paul’s prayer that the Colossians live a “fully pleasing” life (Col. 1:9-14). Many of us were struck by the fact that for Paul the leading aspect of a fully pleasing life is . . . good works. Paul prays that the Colossians would be “bearing fruit in every good work” (1:10).
But what might this look like in concrete, doable terms for you and me? Well, you can read about one great example (involving some Calvary folks!) in this week’s Wednesday Journal, in a piece by Abigail Cramton’s entitled, “Pouring Love, Breaking Through: Tutoring on Chicago’s West Side Benefits Tutors and Students.” As the tag-line suggests, Ms. Cramton highlights the mutual blessing and benefit of serving others through tutoring.
Her encouraging and thoughtful piece, in turn, got me to thinking about not only what bearing fruit in every good work might look, but why bearing fruit in every good work is commanded and commended in the Bible. Here are some of my thoughts:
- Good words adorn doctrine. Doctrine, or truth, is a beautiful thing, even when naked. But what’s even more beautiful is doctrine, or truth, dressed-up, as it were, in a life of good works, conviction clothed in good deeds while tutoring somewhere on the West Side. That’s why obedience is commanded and commended: “so that in every way [we] will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10).
- Good works encourage others to think highly of who God is. Good works point – ultimately not to themselves or to the doer, but to the One who enables and receives them. So we are told by Jesus to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Good works are beams of light that radiate out from a magnificent Source.
- Good works enliven one’s own life of faith. Ms. Cramton’s article contains a wonderful line in which she points out that the tutors she featured in her article “serve out of a conviction of faith and believe that it truly is more blessed to give than to receive.” This is an allusion to one of the only statements of Jesus outside the Gospels; it’s found in Acts 20:35, where a follower of Jesus, the Apostle Paul, says that when he was with a church in the ancient city of Ephesus, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” More blessed to give than to receive? A truly stunning and even paradoxical thought: the one who gives actually receives more than the one who receives. And yet that’s precisely the mystery – almost, you might say, the magic – of obeying and serving in Jesus’ name: it enlivens one’s own life and faith. One finds that in the act of giving, one receive far more.
- Good works meet real needs. Of course, good works are designed not only to showcase the greatness of God or enliven the faith and life of the one who does them; they’re also designed to meet real, practical, concrete needs in our communities. Which is itself a good in itself.
- Good works will be met with a real reward. One of the more terrifying and yet terrific passages in all the Bible is Matthew 25. In that chapter in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus paints a rather sobering picture of when he will one day return to earth to judge humankind according to their good works – according to whether they have fed the hungry, given a drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked and needy, cared for the sick, visited the oppressed and suffering (25:34-40). And as that passage makes clear, as do innumerable other passages in both the Old and New Testaments, these good works will be met with a very real reward: the kingdom itself. “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (25:34).
So may we continue to abounded in every good work, for the good of our communities, the good of our souls, and the glory of God.