What Happens When the Church is Activated on Mission?

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

In the book of Acts we see the Holy Spirit set the early believers ablaze for the work of God. We encounter Peter, who steps forth with boldness to preach the good news and thousands come to believe Jesus is the Messiah. We see bold people like Stephen, who speaks of Christ and it costs him his life, and Philip, who shares across cultural and religious barriers to bring the Samaritans to Jesus. We see an enemy of Christ, Saul of Tarsus, become a passionate evangelist and bold church planter, the Apostle Paul.

Acts is an active book where we see the church activated on mission. What does it look like when individual believers and church communities are activated by God for His work? Suffice it to say that things happen.

But let’s look at something we could miss here. Acts is an active book but we also see two things in Acts that Christianity is not about.

Christianity—following Jesus—does not leave us much space for being boring or apathetic. Sometimes in the midst of the world, with all the needs, all the challenges, all the serious situations, we can become overwhelmed by the needs. This sometimes leads us to turn away from the needs of the world, focusing on our own lives and challenges. Essentially, we become apathetic. But activated churches and Christians are not apathetic or boring. They are engaged with the needs of the world because God cares about people and the needs of the world. God is an active, giving missionary God.

At the same time, even though Acts is an active book, it is not a busy book. In fact, there is a big difference between being busy and being active. The early church was activated by the Holy Spirit to join in with God in a focused way for God’s mission. But the early church was not meaninglessly busy. Some of us, when we become Christians, think that we are to become busy for the kingdom. But there is not a lot of space for busyness in the activated church. Some of us need to remember that God is not all that interested in uncommanded work. He wants us to join in with His kingdom mission but not to be aimlessly rushing around with whatever captures our attention in the moment. In fact, what captures our attention may lead us away from the activated mission God has for us. As a wise mentor once shared with me: we may need to consider whether we are more in love with the work of the Lord than we are in love with the Lord of the work.

Activated Christianity is not about being boring and neither is it about being busy. Activated Christianity is not about apathy to the world’s need nor is it about frenzied activity. The book of Acts shows us that the church is activated by the power of the Holy Spirit for the mission of God in the world.

The Weekend Wanderer: 26 September 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


Breonna Taylor“The results of the Breonna Taylor investigation” – I texted and talked with a lot of my African American friends this week who were both anxiously awaiting the verdict from the grand jury trial in Louisville and then devastated with the outcome. For those who don’t know the timeline of this case, take a look here. For a sense of what many black Christians were looking for in relation to the killing of Breonna Taylor read John Allen Randolph’s article “The Long Fight for Justice: A Freedom Narrative from Louisville.” Adam Russell Taylor’s piece at Sojourners, “No Justice for Breonna Taylor: The Indictment Didn’t Even #sayhername,” written after the announcement of the verdict, describes the festering wound many continue to grapple with. David French, in “The Awful Realities of the Breonna Taylor Case,” reflects on how this verdict raises questions of safety in our homes and calls for reviving the importance of the Fourth Amendment.


Amy Coney Barrett“Is Judge Barrett’s ‘kingdom of God’ different from Obama’s?” – A lot of recent attention has focused on the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg this past week and what that means for the Court, the Presidential election, and nominees for the highest court. One of the leading candidates for nomination is Amy Coney Barrett, a committed Roman Catholic and conservative. In the midst of a series we are walking through at Eastbrook on the kingdom of God, I found this piece on what the kingdom of God means to different people in the political realm thought provoking. (On a related topic, you may also enjoy Russell Moore’s article, “The Supreme Court Needs to Be Less Central to American Public Life.”)


article_5f6ce2e7b5087“The Church as a Political Force” – I’m thinking about faith and politics a lot right now both because of our current teaching series on the kingdom of God, but also because I want to equip myself and others with a thoughtful and biblical understanding of faith in the public square. Here is Peter J. Leithart on this topic, giving specific attention to the book of Acts and the ministry of Paul. The last paragraph of this article is a very clear and helpful description of the tension and opportunity. (If you’re interested in this topic, you may want to consider joining us online this Monday night at 7 PM (CST) for Dr. Vincent Bacote’s lecture at Eastbrook, “The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life,” followed by Q&A.)


man in the moon“Your Preaching Is Not God’s Work. You Are God’s Work.” – Todd Hunter has always been an important voice on evangelism, spiritual formation, and ministry. Here he offers some important insights for preachers as part of his own change of mindset based on a conversation with an invaluable mentor. Preachers, we need to learn and re-learn this lesson.


Gaslight“Gaslighting” – Here is Alan Jacobs on the overuse or misuse of the term “gaslighting” and why it does not always apply or make sense in its contemporary use. “One of the more pernicious quirks of English usage to arise in the past few years is the employment — by a remarkably large number of people, it seems to me — of the term ‘gaslighting’ as the default explanation for disagreement. Nobody just disagrees with me anymore, they’re trying to gaslight me.”


Books On Table Against Shelf In Library

“Here Are The 50 Books Nominated for 2020 National Book Awards” – Everyone probably knows that I am a book guy. I love reading (although I didn’t as a child) and was an English literature major in college. Well, one area of interest for me is book awards and seeing what books are nominated for awards and why. I always find a book or two that captures my attention (plus a few that I wonder how they made it to the list). Here is the latest list of the National Book Award nominees for 2020.


Music: Julianna Barwick (featuring Jónsi), “In Light,” from Healing is a Miracle.

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Activate

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Why does the church exist and what are we to be about?

This weekend at Eastbrook we begin a new series where we explore some of the basics of missional living for followers of Christ and the church community by looking at Acts 1 & 2. Specifically, we will explore Jesus’ call to be witnesses, the importance of prayer, the need for Holy Spirit empowerment, and the opportunity to actively engage with those around us. Let’s get activated!

May 2/3 – Called (Acts 1:1-11)

May 9/10 – Praying (Acts 1:12-26)

May 16/17 – Empowered (Acts 2:1-13)

May 23/24 – Engaged (Acts 2:14-47)

You can follow along with the series via our web-site, our Vimeo page, our Facebook page, or by downloading the Eastbrook Church app.

The Real Face of Community

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[About four years ago, I wrote this article for Relevant Magazine‘s online edition. Since the article is no longer available through their web-site, I thought I’d re-post it here.]

Community … community … community. Everywhere you turn, inside and outside of the church, people are obsessed with talking about community.

This is a good thing insofar as it combats the individualistic tendencies of our society. When we stop thinking about the world as millions of autonomous selves and more as related parts, we are headed in the right direction.

However, the manner in which people discuss community consistently disappoints me. It is commonly left at a superficial level. You know, the sort of community that lasts the few hours of a weeknight gathering, endures for a weekend-long retreat or exists within online communities where people know little about one another’s everyday lives. The word community is used, but the reality being discussed lacks true depth.

More pointedly, I am coming to terms with the fact that community is not about people like me. It’s easy to be in community, or at least on congenial terms, with people who are similar to me: similar musical tastes, similar clothing tastes, similar discussion interests, similar stages of life, similar political leanings, similar biting critiques of other people.

This sort of community of sameness reminds me of Jesus’ powerful statement: “You will be greatly blessed when you love those comfortably like you.” Hmm. I think I may have just misquoted the Gospels. What Jesus really says is this: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

Look around the room when Jesus said this. There is Simon Peter, that abrasive and over-talkative attention-getter. And James and John, the glorious “Sons of Thunder” who constantly seemed concerned with getting the places close to Jesus. Good old Thomas, whose skepticism and “glass is half full” view of life could bring such a sour tone to things. And Simon the Zealot, who, after these many months together, still talked about Jesus starting a fiery political revolution. Not to mention everyone else, some of whom seem to skulk behind the scenes with little to say about anything. It’s a miracle that these 12 guys didn’t argue all of the time about everything … oh, that’s right, they did.

It’s interesting that they apparently changed the topic once Jesus emphasized this loving one another idea again. “You’ve said that before, and we already know about it,” they may have said. “Move on, Jesus. Give us some words about more exciting matters, like the end of the world.”

It’s sort of like us.

Look around the room next time you’re gathered with other followers of Jesus. See the different faces: some attractive, some homely, some happy, some depressed, some attentive, some distracted, some awake, some sleeping. Think about the person you just bumped into at the door whom you’ve never met beyond an awkward initial conversation.

Think about the person across the room you would rather not have to talk to, let alone see. Think about the people you’re glad you haven’t seen this time. Did I hear a sigh of relief?

If only Jesus had formed a community out of something other than ordinary, irritating, disagreeable, quirky people. Life would certainly have been easier for all of us. But also less true.

Community does not exist without quirkiness, disagreement, awkwardness and difference. We—all of us so different and distinct—are made one in Christ Jesus. Just as He held that rag-tag group of disciples together, He holds us together.

The ugly side of community is that we are repulsed by community in this more authentic way. More often than not, we sell out for a paltry and superficial community that is easy and romantic, not letting our dreaminess be interrupted by the reality of you and me being made one through the tough love of Christ.

His love is tough because it cost Him everything to make us one, and twice tough because it costs us everything to really love one another as a community.