Reflections on Contextualization

Among those involved in the world Christian movement is a term used to develop strategy for making the good news of Jesus Christ applicable to varying nations, cultures, and languages; to make the gospel applicable in a way that allows the individuals in the culture to remain a part of their culture by redeeming cultural practices for Christ.

This strategic planning is know as “contextualization.”

Those of us involved in world mission know and understand it well.

Those of us involved in world mission employ it regularly on short term trips, long term excursions, and with any interactions we have with internationals within our own country.

The goal of contextualization is to ensure that individuals within a culture remain an essential part of that culture in all things language, practice, and vocation.

In other words, Christians bring the good news of Jesus Christ to a people who have never heard about Him, and that is all that they bring.

Because culture does not equate to sin.

Because skin color and language do not equate to sin.

And because we believe that God has created all people for good works that He personally prepared for them before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 2:10). And these good works include culture, language, and cultural practices.

However, why has contextualization of the gospel been primarily studied in relation to the world Christian movement?

What I am talking about here does not have to do with contextualization of the sinner’s prayer of salvation. The modern evangelical church has done a wonderful job of making the sinner’s prayer (that which brings people to “accept Christ”) applicable to various groups within American culture.

What I am talking about is the contextualization of the whole gospel- the gospel that is not just about salvation, but about the mind-renewing – life altering – gospel that reconciles every area of life that individuals are already involved in. The gospel that calls people to remain in their jobs, their arts, their doctoral studies, while consecrating all of those things to Jesus that He might use them to powerfully influence that sphere of the world for the Kingdom of God.

 It seems that within the evangelical church in America there is this idea that if individuals want to follow God they must “sacrifice” time spent on amoral (and even good) things such as work, school, and the arts and instead redirect that time to church based activities. So often I have heard the phrase, “individual ‘x’ does not want to follow God because he/she is spending too much time at work, at school, or participating in the arts.” More often than this have I heard, “a personal ministry requires sacrifice and time, therefore spending too much time at school, work, or the arts is, according to the New Testament, not following God.”

Why are we manipulating individuals who are trying to follow Jesus with their God given gifts and passions to instead give those things up and latch on to man-declared methods of “following God?”

When the Holy Spirit gifts an individual He gifts them for the purpose of expanding the Kingdom of God in that vein of culture. Without varied outworking of the gospel, the Kingdom of God will never expand beyond our man-made boundaries.

Jesus wants the world to come to Him with all of their gifts, talents, and desires, not some whitewashed tomb that has been manipulatively led to give up passions, gifts, and desires for the “sake of the gospel.”

That is not the gospel, that is man made religion.

The evangelical church in America needs to contextualize the gospel in such a way that individuals will sacrifice – for Jesus Christ – time, energy, and resources to infiltrate the darkest places in the world; the arts, the marketplace, and the positions of leadership within government, business, and community.

We are so good at pulling people out of those positions that the world is actually getting darker instead of lighter. So many I have met have given up desires to be musicians, doctors, lawyers, PhD graduates, CEO’s, because a leader in the church told them that following God requires giving up time devoted to those things (amoral, mind you) and instead redirecting that time to activities within the local church.

May Jesus have mercy on us for our foolishness and arrogance in this regard.

We should instead be commissioning followers of Christ to become doctors, to become musicians, to become governors, superintendents, lawyers, politicians, police officers, because Jesus wants to infiltrate all of culture, not just church culture.

We do not call people in to the church, we call people to become the church.

By limiting the Christian in education, vocation, and culture we effectually limit the spread of the gospel thereby preventing the Kingdom of God from expanding beyond arbitrary boundaries set up by the church.

We should rejoice when a committed Christian musician desires to break into the dark world of the music industry.

We should rejoice when a committed Christian film-maker chooses to make his life about telling great stories for Christ and meeting those in places like Hollywood where they are at that they might meet the Jesus who wants them to be even more competent in their field.

We should rejoice when a committed Christian prayerfully sacrifices his time to be educated in a way that will effectively enact justice in the world and expand the Kingdom of God through the use of arts, medicine, law, engineering, and education.

If we are to see the Kingdom of God on Earth as it is in Heaven we must stop limiting believers in Christ to only being engaged in ministry in the local church and commission them to be fully engaged in the marketplace, the arts, and at the university level.

If we do not, we will continue to see American culture move further and further away from the “only Name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Reflections on Zephaniah

“… the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us…”

Intrigued that this post begins with a verse from Romans 8 instead of the titled Zephaniah?

That makes two of us.

The Holy Spirit inspires as He wills, I do not question it.

As I was reading through Zephaniah tonight – a book I have read countless times over the years – the nature of suffering stuck out to me in a way it never has before. So many quote Zephaniah 3:17 as if it were the central point of the book.

Well, friends, it definitely is not.

The central theme in the book of Zephaniah is judgment and suffering; the judgment and suffering that are wrought by God on the nations because they have committed acts of injustice directly correlated with turning their eyes away from their Lord and Savior Yahweh.

Yes, this judgment and suffering prophesied by Zephaniah to the nations is suffering and judgment from the hand of God.

Many, including myself, see suffering and judgment as being equated with evil; equated with everything that God is not.

Well, friends, this, too, is false.

Suffering is, yes, the direct result of fallen human nature deciding to turn their eyes from their Creator to the created and worship that instead.

Judgment, in a similar light, is the direct result of this same ocular misdirection.

Therefore, suffering and judgment cannot be wrought by God because they are equated with sin and evil.



 God’s judgment – and consequently the nature of suffering due to God’s judgment – is out of love for you, love for me.

The goal in God wrought suffering is to turn our worship from the created to the Creator; from that which rust and moth destroy to that which brings abundant life and abundant joy resulting in righteous acts of justice and love.

The suffering that He puts us through results in glory.

The suffering we put ourselves through? Vanity.

For He delights in suffering that brings about glory, not suffering that brings about vanity.

Our tendency is to become and live like that which we worship.

The created is dying; the Creator is living.

The created is vanity; the Creator is glory.

God has something more for us than to hopelessly live and perish in vain.

Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 says it best,

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who have died, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

We have hope that directing our worship towards our Creator will bring about the abundant life and joy that Jesus promised we would have on this Earth; and we have hope that directing our worship towards our Creator will ultimately result in the “glory that will be revealed in us” when we enter life eternal.

Zephaniah 3:8-10 makes clear God’s intentions for Zephaniah’s prophetic words and the suffering of the nations,

“… Indeed, My decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out on them My indignation, all My burning anger… because of all [their deeds]… pride… deceit… and injustice… for then the people will have purified lips, that all of them may call on [My name] to serve [Me] shoulder to shoulder [with one another]…

Zephaniah spoke to Israel concerning the suffering that God was going to bring not only to them, but to all the nations that worship what is going to destroy them.

And He did this in love to spare them.

To spare them from suicidal worship that leads to vain suffering and despair.

My friend Mike’s treatment of suffering and the gospel is an apt closure,

There is an element of the gospel that requires that we suffer in this life. Suffering is not all of the gospel, but enough of it that if you avoid suffering you will miss the gospel.

The suffering of the church in this present age is the backdrop for the futures glories and excellencies that are awaiting Christ’s people.

God brings about suffering in your life because He loves you.

Do not stand for self wrought suffering that leads to vanity.

Pray for God led suffering that leads to glory.

Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 5:8-10

“But since we are of the day, let us be controlled, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.” (1 Thessalonians 5:8-10)

Without assured truth and love rooted in Christ that guard the heart, we are vulnerable to a number of feelings that run contrary to the high call of Christ.

Without the breastplate of faith we are prone to following sensations and feelings rather than truth.

Without the confidence of eternal life through Christ that guards our minds, our motivation to run with endurance becomes dulled by thoughts of guilt and worthlessness that lead to death.

Without the helmet of salvation, we are likely to reach a point where we reason our way out of acting in faith for Christ.

We don the breastplate to protect the heart and the helmet to protect the mind for we are actively engaged in a cosmic war. A war not of flesh – even though all flesh are entangled in it – but of truth and ideas. We know the outcome; the war is won – our salvation guaranteed.

So why fight?

Why engage in a war in which the outcome is already made known?

We fight because although the war is ours, many battles must still be won. The high call of Christ is to skirmish for the souls of those to whom His blood has not yet covered; to bring the guarantee of salvation to all flesh.

Don the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of salvation to victory!

Reflections on Restoration

It truly is overwhelming to be so unconditionally loved, so cared about, by someone that you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that everything they say and do is in your best interest. They may call out weak spots in your character, but you receive it in humility because you know they love you. They may ask you to do something difficult and scary, but you step out in faith because you know that they care about you.

The truth is that there is only One who fits the bill. And the restorative power of His love is truly awesome.

Hosea 6:1-3 touched my heart in a unique way as I was slowly reading through each verse this afternoon. Hosea pleads, Come, let us return to the LordFor He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, That we may live before Him. So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; And He will come to us like the rain, Like the spring rain watering the earth.”

The call to the world throughout the Bible is always, “Return to Me! Please return to Me! Let me heal you! Drink from the well that will never run dry!”

And for many of us, returning to the One who created us is more of a painful journey than a peaceful one, Israel being a prime example.

The reason for the Law of Moses, the reason for the Kings of Israel, the reason for the prophets, priests, wars, and captivities (notice that this is the entirety of the Old Testament) was because Israel continually tried to remedy their problems with foreign gods who had “eyes, but could not see, ears but could not hear, mouths but could not speak.” (Psalm 115:5-6)

Instead of returning to the Lord in their mistakes, they turned their eyes from Him. Instead of repenting – redirecting their minds to follow the God who was faithfully leading them- they rebelled. Instead of flourishing in His ways, they floundered in their own ways.

And time after time did the Lord bring His restorative hand of discipline down on the Israelite people. He destroyed their lifeless gods. He broke every expectation that they had of being able to live completely self-reliant. And He made sure that they knew that without Him, real peace, love, and joy are unattainable.

He knew they needed Him, because He knows what is best for those whom He created.

Remarkably, three things are consistently mentioned by individuals in the Old Testament who turn back to the Lord after undergoing bouts of discipline:

1) If we return to Him, He will hear us

2) If we return to Him, He will heal us

3) If we return to Him, He will lead us

There was never any doubt in the eyes of those who underwent the discipline of the Lord that He loved them and cared for them. Nor was there ever any fear of rejection if repentance was made.

The discipline of the Lord is not for the pleasure of a sadistic deity, it is rather for the restoration of broken people to the only One who can heal their brokenness, the all-loving, Almighty, Yahweh. 

The people of Israel never doubted His intentions.

Nor should we.

It will be painful, that can be guaranteed.

But what can also be guaranteed is that He knows what He is doing, and His discipline is for our benefit, for our restoration.

And so the promises of God to us if we offer ourselves to Him in repentance is that he will hear, heal, and lead. Hear, so that we might commune with Him. Heal, so that we might be free from the guilt and shame of our mistakes. And lead, so that we might walk in His ways producing God-honoring fruit wherever we go.

For the true purpose of discipline is to restore the creature to the Creator, and the purpose of restoring the creature to the Creator is God-honoring action.