February 5, 2015
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
God Centered Life Ministries is pleased to welcome to the blog Harold Smith, president and CEO of Christianity Today. Read his complete bio here. I was in Portland, Oregon recently to attend an annual leadership conference sponsored by the Murdock Charitable Trust—a very generous supporter of ministries in the Northwest. (Yes, I was one of the lone Midwesterners!) The conference title was “The Word Made Flesh,” and the 200 women and men in attendance represented Christian leaders from a number of traditions who are creatively putting their feet to the Gospel. Or as one Jesuit brother shared with me over dinner: “Servant-leaders who are making themselves available.” “Availability,” I learned during this same mealtime, is part of the Jesuit tradition, and speaks of Christ’s agents taking risks by circumventing all barriers of class, color, gender—whatever—and engaging God’s image bearers directly, whomever they may be and whatever their need, with Christ’s love, grace, and touch. It is an attitude I not only experienced in Portland during my visit, but one I am seeing more and more of as I travel on behalf of the ministry I serve, Christianity Today: Men and women stepping out of their comfort zones to be Christ’s hands and feet in some of the most unlikely—and frankly, most unusual—settings. People like Pastor David Beidel of Staten Island, who over two decades ago transplanted himself and his young family into a church in the middle of a demilitarized zone, where the powers of Hell seemed to be in complete control. Fast forward to today. And over tears, Dave shared with me his story of agonizing (and violent!) pain and loss—and God’s redeeming, transformative power. Today the “Gates of Hell” have given way to Gospel restoration in lives changed and neighborhoods transformed. Or take Kevin Finch, a former pastor and Portland food critic, who resigned his pastorate five years ago to follow a call to serve those in the transient restaurant and hospitality industries. Today, his ministry—called Big Table—is flourishing in Portland and Seattle and exists to see the lives of those working in these settings “transformed by building community around shared meals and caring for those in crisis, transition, or falling through the cracks.” There is an almost apostolic feel to these so-called radical Christ-followers who were not content with a comfortable, controlled Christianity but saw their calling in Christ as pouring themselves out on the altar of sacrifice. They made themselves available, even at a cost. Even when it frankly made no sense. (As Big Table founder Finch told me at the conference, five years after his ministry started, his former—and still supporting—church told him they originally thought his idea was “nuts!”) Such stories convey the workings of what I am increasingly seeing as an uncompromising Gospel demanding uncomfortable grit. Uncomfortable because the Gospel’s call on our lives is so counter to a culture and society where “risk” has become a four-letter word and where the high cost of lost comfort is a price tag fewer and fewer people are willing to pay. Not that I should talk. I like the quietness of my Carol Stream home. The relative ease of listening to a Josh Moody sermon on a Sunday morning. Or hearing the wonderful College Church choir raise praise to our King. But I’m growing ever more concerned over the cost of my “contentment.” Am I reflecting our culture’s reckless commitment to comfort at all costs or am I truly willing, wanting to risk being a counter-culture for the common good, to use Manhattan pastor Tim Keller’s mantra. Am I willing to make myself available to those only a stone’s throw away in nearby Jerusalems, Judeas, and Samarias? Or, as the Rev Gregg Detwiler wrote in Discipleship Journal in 2006, is my commitment to the Great Commission unwittingly leading to a great omission when it comes to seeking and finding desperate and lost populations only a tank of gas away? In this post-Ferguson world, in a world where multiple cultures are colliding, in a society where our prison population is larger than some nations and where parolees are left to their own devices, and where the mentally ill and their families are looking for a touch of grace, of hope, the matter of our—of my—Gospel grit may be called for now more than ever. The harvest fields are white. And they’re right next door. As one writer put it, we have before us a “mission field around the block, across the tracks, or two miles down the wrong road.” Portland again demonstrated that many are going after this harvest in unpredictable—even entrepreneurial—ways. Sowing and reaping by their risky availability. And it’s wasn’t only 20-and 30-somethings out on the edge, but aging Boomers (like me!) who shared both their scars and stories of amazing grace. I boarded the plane home from Portland praying that my Gospel commitment would lead me to do the same—would continue to lead many of us in comfortable Carol Stream and Wheaton to do the same. For if not us, then who?]]>
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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