This will probably skew dangerously close to preaching. Consider yourself warned.
Every so often, God likes to nudge my spirit with a gentle “Why don’t you stop judging what is being said based on your past experiences and instead just listen?” I will admit: for as far as I have come, there are still a few chips I carry on my shoulder from my heydays of wilderness-ing that I unintentionally dare God or others to knock off. Those who have been burned by church leaders or those in a church may understand what I’m talking about: you almost can’t see beyond the stereotype or the face(s) of those who in some ways forever changed the way you see your faith.
Case in point: I have an issue with some church planters.
Now, before my friend count on Facebook takes a massive hit, please hear me out.
I will admit that not EVERY mission trip or church plant results in a herd of moderately well-intentioned White folk going into an area to bring a message of hope and salvation via a church they build by engaging in what is no less than a “drive-by-Jesus-ing” in that they drop a framework of a very WASP-y Christian life into a culture that may not even understand the need for graphics behind the lyrics of the worship music projected on the screens. Savages.
And yes, I have seen and felt much love being given and received by those who go and those whose worlds they come into. However, we need to be honest: missionaries used to do exactly what I outlined above and call it God’s work. They followed the Crusades as a template of evangelism, but instead of using swords, they used the Word (which, funny enough, those words are strikingly similar in their spelling) to subjugate and justify their actions.
And it still happens today. Far more than it should.
That’s why when the church we’ve been attending started talking about planting a church in India, I grunted a bit like Adam Baldwin’s character on Chuck. I foresaw an apocalypse where the culture of the region they were going into was to be subjugated and transformed into a wasteland of strip malls with check-cashing storefronts. Mainly because one verse was touted as the central impetus/driving reason to go: Romans 10:14 - How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?
And I was suddenly reminded of all the negative stereotypes of church planters/missionaries that I knew. And I was suddenly reminded of the times this verse had been used to justify far too many things.
And before I could shut my mind and heart off and begin to jot down questions to inquire of the team going, I was suddenly reminded by God to be still…and know. To look beyond myself and into the Word that was being offered.
Turns out that the verb in verse 14 – “preaching” – is actually translated Kerusso in Greek. Kerusso simply means…herald. One who goes before. One who is simply to proclaim. Not evangelism (or the practice we may more commonly know as Televangelism); this means bringing a good message.
Or, to make it holiday-centric, a glad tiding. Good news of a great joy. For all the people.
Matter of fact, Romans 10:15 goes on to state: And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
If you stop to think about it in this framework, perhaps it makes much more sense (and more readily lines up with Biblical principles) to think of the witness we are to bring as behaving in the role of an angel at Jesus’ birth (Luke 2). The angels arrived, probably looking a bit on the whiter-hue of the color spectrum, what with that whole bit about the Glory of the Lord shining round about them, to an indigenous people who at first may not have understand why they were there. The angels then began to share a message, using a story the shepherds could understand because it came from their culture.
Proclaiming. Radiant. Praising God.
What’s really cool is that if you look at the passage in Luke 2, nowhere does it say that the angels appeared in the sky. It states (a) in Luke 2:9 that an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, (b) in Luke 2:13 that there appeared a multitude of the heavenly host, and (c) in Luke 2:15 that the angels “had gone away from them and into heaven.” For all we know, the angels appeared on the hillside with the shepherds, perhaps having walked up to them. They may have actually been on the physical ground with them. Sharing space, sharing a story. Not appearing above them, but on their level.
The second time in one night that the presence of God came down and dwelt among us.
It’s that radiance, that heralding, which I have (includes faith, hope, and love) for this group going and the work they will do in India.
It’s that radiance, that heralding, which I feel challenged to live out myself.
What if I possessed that radiance, that brilliance, a light that shines so brightly in my life that it dwarfs out the stars during my interactions with others? ESPECIALLY in this holiday season of travel headaches, lines of impatient people, and dealing with fruitcakes (both literal and of the biological family variety).
It’s an interesting spin on the Christmas story.