Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Today's Advent Passage: Isaiah 61:1-2

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; - (Isaiah 61:1-2 ESV)

Jesus read this description of Messiah's purpose in coming when He spoke in the temple (Luke 4). He announced "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." Thus, we know that Jesus' ministry from God was about all these things:
- Bringing good news
- Binding up the brokenhearted
- Setting captives free
- Removing binding changes
- Proclaiming God's favor instead of judgment
- Proclaiming God's vengeance over evil and injustice
- Comforting the mourners

Wrapped up in the idea of Christmas is the concept that Jesus came to minister to the whole person. The example we see in His ministry shows us someone who cared about bodies, souls, and spirits. He met spiritual, physical and emotional needs. As His body we are called to do the same. The modern word for it is "missional" - we are to always be on mission. Another way to put it is simply - being the church.

Earlier today I read a comment on a blog that I follow from time to time (http://www.jonacuff.com/stuffchristianslike/2011/12/cancelling-church-on-christmas-day/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+stuffchristianslikeblog+%28Stuff+Christians+Like+-+Jon+Acuff%29). The blog post is very much written as humorous and tongue-in-cheek, but the first comment gripped me as a great example of being the church, being missional. This church did it on Christmas Day, but the reality is that this is to be the lifestyle of who we are all the time. I'm including this comment because it's too good not to share. As we reflect on Jesus' mission in coming to earth, let's remember that He didn't reach everyone in all places while He was here. He trained leaders who taught new believers who became the church who has been charged, for the last 2000 years, with the job of finishing the task - being on mission with God until all have heard.

Until the day that we celebrate around the throne with believers from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people group (Rev. 7:9), Christmas should always bring with it the reminder that we are to be missional. Jesus showed us what that looks like.

We cancelled services 7 years ago (the last time Christmas fell on Sunday) and received a huge backlash. We're by far the largest church around, so it was in the paper and (sadly) lots of other local pastors took the opportunity to public bash us. Instead, our senior minister encouraged everyone to go out and "be the church" in the community. Some people volunteered at homeless shelters and soup kitchens (kinda think Jesus would have rather seen that anyway).

Others went out to eat as an excuse to bless the wait staff who had to work. Lots of reports (anonymously) of people ordering a cup of coffee and leaving HUGE tips (like $50 or more). One very well off family got to know a young man who was their waiter. He was working 2 jobs to put himself through college and didn't have a car to go home for Christmas. So they gave him their car. They developed a friendship with him and "adopted" him while he was away at school and paid for some of his tuition. He's a minister in his hometown now. A little girl baked brownies and went down to the university campus to hand them out to students who were in town. Most were international students, one was a Muslim young man who casually asked her why she was doing it. Expecting, "school fund raiser" or something similar, he got in reply, "well, Jesus would do this." The little girl invited him to church. He'd been secretly wrestling with his faith and so he came. He was baptized last Easter, because of a little girl and her brownies.

But the best story was one of the local ministers who had criticized our church's decision to cancel. He hadn't said anything publicly, but to his friends had talked about how we must not really love Jesus. Christmas morning, his son started having seizures and was rushed to children's hospital. While they waited, someone anonymously brought a huge spread of food to the ICU waiting room so everyone there could have Christmas dinner. He didn't know where it came from. Months later, he was at a pastor's conference and our pastor was speaking about "canceling Christmas" and what all the people did to love our city. When he talked about setting up a buffet in the ICU waiting room at Children's, this pastor said he began to cry uncontrollably. He spoke to our congregation via video last week and shared that story. His church is doing the same this year.

I dont't think there is anything wrong with having services, but I for one am glad that we don't. That attitude of "being the church" has continued, we even sometimes cancel random services to do the same and this has become our mantra, "If we closed our doors today, would anyone notice?" We want the answer to be yes, because of what God is doing through us to serve the people He loves.

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