Click on “Love the Story” to listen to a talk I gave recently at Trinity Western University.
This is a good story about our love story and the ultimate love story.
What if the sacred / secular divide was not the most accurate way of understanding the way things are and the way things should be?
With stinging clarity Jeff Christopherson points out that the kingdom of darkness is thriving in what most people would consider to be the sacred sphere. He trains his guns on what he calls “brand expanders” — the church is to be a vehicle for the expansion of the kingdom of God but instead it has become a competing pool of individual “brands” fighting for available Christian resources, power and influence. This “kingdom turf” is what Christian leaders battle for. The success of individual churches becomes the end game. Leaders, develop consumer-based strategies for filling rooms with Christian people so they can secure their portion of the Christian pie – Good preaching good music good parking. Whatever it takes. Church planting is a good idea theoretically but not if it requires resources that will drain the sending church. Protect, consolidate and above all promote the brand is what matters. The church is suffering down the street? that’s too bad. We will “pray”for them and with giddy anticipation contact all the disenfranchised Christians in order to assimilate them into the brand.
Christopherson, laments that for too long Christians have been content to view themselves as objects of grace instead of agents of grace. The life of faith corporately, is not about protecting assets and capturing market share, it’s about sacrifice and surrender to a greater kingdom than our own. As Churches come to give themselves away for the sake of God’s kingdom, the kingdom seekers of this world who have not yet met their king will be drawn in. Kingdom seekers are not fooled by the “brand expanders” of religion they are sickened by it. A churches calling is to imbed itself relationally in a neighborhood and then ask itself the question of it’s kingdom seeking friends “how would our group of kingdom seekers most likely find their way into the kingdom of God?” — then build the outreach strategy around those answers. Ultimately because we as humans constantly feel the need to measure success how do churches do it, if it’s not “noses, and nickels”? Jeff says success should only be measured by new believers, new disciple makers, new communities of faith and a transforming effect those communities are having on their neighborhoods.
This book had the open jaw effect on me at times. I would read a paragraph, and my mouth would drop open, and I would says things like, “wow, can he say that?” or “oh my goodness, I can’t believe he just said that.” It was powerful, in my estimation, because I suspect he is saying what a lot of Christians have been thinking or have experienced. The strength of this book is his critique of the church, It’s fair, perhaps oversimplified in some spots, and a little to “spicy” in others, but it’s fair. In addition, his matrix for helping us visualize the human landscape as brand expanders, self seekers, kingdom seekers, and kingdom expanders is very helpful.
What makes a man a man? Can we even ask that question in our increasingly androgynous culture? Eric Metaxas does, but instead of giving a long detailed answer he points his finger in the direction of 7 men and says, “be like them and you’ll be the man.” The common thread in all seven of these men was their unwavering commitment to protect the weak and uphold the cause of the persecuted. They were compelled to sacrifice their careers, their time, their popularity, their resources, and even their lives for the good of others. In Metaxas’ estimation, this is what makes a man, a man.
George Washington — As leader of the newly minted United States, every one assumed that he would become the new “King George”. In fact, many wanted just that, instead he willingly gave away his power so the idea of democracy could stand. Never in history has someone let go of so much power so willingly. Self aggrandizement was never on Washington’s agenda, he lived to protect and help others. Over the course of his life he amassed 300 slaves, but became increasingly convicted about the legitimacy of owning people. At his death, he freed them all. Giving the older ones pensions and ensuring the education of the younger.
Eric Liddell — Son of Scottish missionaries to China, he spent a good portion of his growing up years separated from his parents, as it was too dangerous to live in China with them. He excelled in sports in England’s boarding schools and rocketed to fame becoming known as the “Flying Scotsman.” He preferred principled living over popularity, and only used his fame to raise funds and awareness for the plight of disenfranchised people in England and China. When his turn came to represent England in the 1924 Olympics he shocked the world by refusing to run in the mens one hundred meter event because it was held on Sunday. Instead he opted to run the 400, which was not his best event. Incredibly, he won that race setting an Olympic record. Eric ended up in Canada with his wife and two children at the onset of World War II, but his heart was with the people of China, so in the face of great danger, he bid his family farewell, and made one more trip to the land of the Chinese. The storm clouds of war burst upon him while in China and he never returned home. His end came in a POW camp. In the camp Eric regularly sacrificed himself by doing the most unwanted tasks, and giving away what little he had. The camp was home to hundreds of international children separated from their parents because of the war, with no thoughts about his own health, he dedicated himself completely to their care.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer — Bonhoeffer, was able to escape the ruin of his country in 1939 by accepting a position at Union Seminary in New York. Since he was a brilliant theological mind and leader of the confessing church, he was deemed as too important to be swallowed up in Hitlers nightmare. He was compelled however to return home after only two weeks in the United States. He simply had to help Christians and Jews suffering in Germany. He willingly returned to his homeland and fought against evil from the inside. Eventually he was implicated in a plot to over throw Hitler and was hung.
Pope John Paul II — Growing up in Poland, long before he became Pope, he battled the moral bankruptcy that communism brought. With humor, care, and charisma his long term resistance to the communist world view helped to bring about it’s downfall. As Pope he was tireless in reaching out to people. He never viewed his office as impressive, rather, it was an opportunity for him to serve and love people. Often he would plunge into crowds blessing, serving and helping. This created security nightmares, but he never seemed to fear losing his life. When he was shot, he sought out his assailant in order to demonstrate to the world Christ’s teaching on forgiveness. When Parkinson’s began to assault him, he purposely stayed in the public eye, believing that in his weakness Christ would be made strong.
Chuck Colson — The notorious fall guy for the Water Gate scandal that impeached President Nixon. He was as Machiavellian as they get, his mis-deeds caught up with him and he was sent to prison, but not before he was converted to Christ. His conversion led him to embrace the value of truth. Instead of fighting his accusers he confessed his sins to the court. His honesty is what sent him to prison. However he told the world that perhaps God was calling him to be a missionary to prisoners. He never left that calling, giving his life to an organization he started after he served his time. Through Prison Fellowship countless inmates have been helped world wide.
William Wilberforce — Born into privilege he enjoyed life safely distanced from the margins of society. In his mid 20’s he became a follower of Jesus. His faith it seemed, could not be compatible with his profession as a politician. That is, until he became aware of the reality of slavery. A vision galvanized and for the rest of his 40 years he battled tirelessly to outlaw slavery in the British empire.
Jackie Robinson — If you had black skin you were not allowed to play professional sports in America and that’s just the way it was. But the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers didn’t see it that way. His faith, couldn’t allow him to look past this inequality. He needed someone who could help him break the race barrier in professional sports. This person would need a unique kind of strength. The strength to NOT fight back, just like Jesus. He found Jackie, a super talented player, with black skin, who followed the teachings of Jesus. As he helped Jackie became a pro, threats, abuse, and persecution mounted, Jackie endured the humiliation, with grace and dignity. He refused to strike back. Most men would not have been able to endure it, but Jackie did, because he was convinced he was serving a cause greater than himself.
She’s a teenager. They attempt to assassinate her. What for? The Taliban had been dishonored because she said she liked some western ideas. She said publicly that she admired Barack Obama. She wanted a full education, and one rumor that had been circulating even suggested that she was against beards on men! For these reasons she must die. But they failed to kill her, The bullet shattered her skull, disfigured her face, severed her facial nerve, and destroyed her eardrum. The Taliban have not apologized, instead they have given assurances not to kill her if she would return to Pakistan, don a burka, get married, and shut up. For the western world this is insane. What would cause a people group to arrive at such conclusions about ways of living? Malala shares with great courage and an open heart so we all can learn. It was a great privilege to read this book.
Honor is the most important thing in this culture. To be shamed is worse than death itself and thus the reason why these cultures fight so much.
Women are not equal here. At the birth of a son there is celebration, but at the birth of a daughter there is weeping. If you want to insult a man all you need to say is “he even asks for his wife’s advice!” — what a slap in the face! No real man would consult his wife. A Woman is equal to half a man in the minds of so many from this culture and religion.
Malala’s father refused to fall in step with these norms. He threw a huge party at his daughter’s birth. When he was taunted by a headmaster for his stutter, he offered to donate blood to the headmasters sick wife instead of letting his shame turn to revenge. He clung to the belief that men and women should be working side by side and that everyone in the country should be entitled to an education. Malala’s courage and outspokenness come from her father, who was willing to stand against the current of a culture that was flowing in the wrong direction.
The Islamification of the area in the 1970’s did not help stem the flow of these cultural currents.
An example of this is clear in 1989 when Salmin Rushty’s book Satanic Verses came out besmirching the character of Mohammed. The dishonor of such a book created riots, bombings and deaths around the world. The intensity of revenge for offense was fanned by the Ayatollah who called for the author’s assassination. Malala’s dad objected strongly saying, “Let’s read the book and write a response to it. Is Islam so weak a religion that it cannot stand a book written against it?” But no one listened to him. Malala commented about her own Peshtoon people, “We never forgive, we never forget; we only repay kindness for kindness and evil for evil. It’s why we never say thank you.” Written into the religion and the culture is the necessity of revenge to restore honor. But Malala asks “where does it stop? It doesn’t.” Malala has come to see that the worldview that underpins her culture is broken.
In 2005 a devastating earthquake leveled the area. Sadly the Pakistani government was slow to respond. Help from the Americans was rejected as they were considered the enemy in the minds of many because of the constant anti western rhetoric coming from the religious establishment. Some misguided drone attacks, on Pakistani soil didn’t endear the United States to the Pakistani people either. The extremists were quick to bring help and hope to the devastated area, but their help came with a message: God’s judgment, was the reason why the area was devastated. God hates television, DVD’s, music and dancing, he hates women laughing in public. He hates that men are not growing beards, and that woman have failed to cover up properly. He is enraged that women are being educated, and that boys are not going to the religious schools. All this made sense to many in this God fearing part of the world. The extremists had been kind and supportive, maybe their message was right. The Taliban offered swift justice options, instead of the lengthly complex and corrupted legal system of the government, they also empowered lower cast people if they were faithful to believe.
The grip of Taliban power tightened around the area, The government lost control of SWAT Valley. President Musharif, couldn’t allow the Taliban to have complete control, but because of the shame culture, he also couldn’t allow the West to be seen as winners either. He sent in the army to crush the Taliban insurgency, but they were really just a figurehead to appease American pressure. Quietly he took 20 billion American dollars, over 8 years and only very slowly gave up prized Al qaeda targets one by one. None of that money made it’s way over to help rebuild the SWAT valley infrastructure. Meanwhile, in full view of the army, the Taliban flaunted their power. By 2008, 400 schools that had educated women were blown up. Regular murders took place throughout the night with Taliban leaders stacking the bodies in town squares for everyone to wake up to. If a woman was caught dancing she was killed. If a man failed to wear the proper pants he was killed. All during this time Malala and her father secretly shared the atrocities with the outside world. There were warnings, the Taliban were closing in.
In 2010 a flood devastated the region. Al qaeda had stripped the trees from the sides of SWAT valley, the resulting floods and mudslides were massively destructive, the worst in the history of the area. The local leadership managed to blame the Americans accusing them of developing a super weapon that caused floods. When Christian and Jewish relief organizations responded, they were told they would be killed. For those suffering, they were told the same message as in 2005: The flood was God’s judgement. Only radical allegiance to Islam would prevent more destruction. This message was not just limited to the SWAT valley. All through Pakistan this intolerance for other ideas and beliefs would regularly manifest itself. Most notably it is found in the blasphemy laws. One case in particular received international attention: Ausia Beebee a single Christian mom in Punjab got into an argument with a Muslim neighbor. Peeved, she made the comment. “Jesus died for the sins of Christians what has Mohammed done for Muslims?” She was arrested and jailed for the comment. It went through the entire legal system, resulting in a guilty verdict and a sentence of death.
Meanwhile, Osama Bin Ladin lived in peace for 9 years in Pakistan, ironically just a few miles from Pakistan’s military headquarters. When the USA finally tracked him down they were furious, concluding that Pakistan must either be involved or incompetent. Pakistan was shamed that the USA could sneak into their country like this.
This shame/honor mindset was almost responsible for Malala’s demise even after she survived the gunshot wound. She lay dying in a Pakistani hospital. The help she needed Pakistan could not offer. Several western countries stepped forward to offer Malala a chance at survival, But the Pakistani government declined the offers. It was dishonorable to accept help from an enemy and an infidel. Finally, in the face of mounting worldwide pressure, the Saudi Prince offered a solution, his personal jet would evacuate Malala, and transport her to the west. This way, a Muslim brother would be responsible for the rescue, rather than an infidel.
Malala is surviving and thriving in her new British home, but she misses terribly her beloved SWAT valley. Her and her father are not good Muslim’s according to the views of many of the Muslims that still dominate her homeland. Is it possible to change the worldview that is the foundation for Malala’s culture? perhaps, but maybe an all together new worldview would be the better long term solution. I would love to meet this brave young lady some day.
Before Islam, Arabs extolled 3 virtues: bravery in battle, patience in misfortune, and persistence in revenge. Muhammad changed the world forever, but these three virtues he did not change, nor did he want to. For good or for ill to this day they remain in all who faithfully follow the belief system he is responsible for.
Rejected in Mecca, Muhammad moved to Medina. He was hesitant to start a new religion, but his dreams and visions were so real to him that he could not resist. He became a judge and quickly combined his religion with his politics. Muhammad justified killing and stealing from Meccan merchants by saying that his treatment of them was better than their treatment of him. Words from Allah occurred conveniently over the course of Muhammad life to help him achieve his goals. Once Allah told him to have his troops attack their enemies on a holy day. Another time Allah told Muhammad to inform a married man to divorce his wife so that Muhammad could marry her. As the struggle with Mecca increased, Muhammad proved himself to be a very crafty leader. He came to dominate the area and soon the merchants looked to Medina as a more lucrative option than Mecca. Ultimately Mecca joined the religion of Muhammad, because it made good financial sense, and Mohammed was a home town boy!
As Muhammad crafted his religion, he came to appreciate the Jewish Scriptures, Jewish people, and Jerusalem. However, things soured quickly when Jews of Medina refused to accept him as a prophet of God just like the prophets of the Scriptures. They poked fun at him, and just could not accept his legitimacy. Rejection gave birth to more revelations from Allah: The Jews of Medina, must be punished, expelled, and in some cases killed. Muhammad told his followers they would no longer bow and face Jerusalem to pray, instead they would pray facing the recently conquered Mecca, whose pagan shrines had been revamped into holy places for Islam.
After the death of the prophet, Abu Bakr was chosen as Mohammed’s successor. The tribes revolted because no one wanted to pay taxes to Medina, which was one of the prescriptions of Islam. He was able to unite them however by picking common enemies to attack and calling for Jihad.
If you were Caliph (leader) it was difficult to stay alive in those early days, most were assassinated for one reason or another. Ali was the 4th Caliph, but Aisha one of Muhammad’s surviving wives did not like him, because he had accused her of being unfaithful to Muhammad. Persistent in revenge she revolted, and the battle of Camels ensued. This was the first of countless Muslim against Muslim battles. Ali was assassinated and a counter movement was started in reaction to corrupt Caliphs. The call is for the leader of Islam to be an actual blood relative of Muhammad, and not just a choice made by the leadership. Hussein, Muhammad only surviving grandson, was chosen, as the rightful heir to the lead the movement. He was a peaceable sort, but is strongly influenced to rise up and fight. The movement gained momentum, but when it was time to fight only 72 warriors showed up. They bravely battled 10,000 opponents but were obliterated. The counter movement didn’t die, but became the beginnings of the infamous Shia Sunni split.
The ruling Caliphate proved to be very good movement leaders. Many were very broad minded, but not always v\moral. Islam was built to conquer. This is seen in their 2 kingdom philosophy. The first kingdom, the kingdom of peace, was the description for areas in which all had been converted to Islam. The other kingdom was known as the kingdom of war, and this was the description of any area that had not yet converted. The leaders of Islam took this calling to advance Islamic rule very seriously. However, by the time of the crusades, Islam had fallen into factions, these divisions are what allowed the crusades to have some success. In some cases disgruntled Muslims joined forces with the crusaders to fight against themselves. The horror of the crusades was child’s play compared to what the Mongolian hordes did to Islam. The Mongols took no prisoners slaughtering millions of Muslims from India all the way to the edges of Egypt. One of the great ironies of this part of history is that within a half century of the slaughter the Mongols who occupied the territory converted to Islam and became the major force in rebuilding what they had destroyed, and aggressively advancing the cause of Islam.
The Ottoman empire was established to battle Christianity. They were very successful, but, sharia law and tradition prevented the Ottoman empire and many other parts of the Muslim world from keeping up with progress. Gunpowder for example, was frowned upon; the printing press was considered sinful, and in the end, they just fell behind. The balance of power in the world was shifting. Some forward thinking Muslims wanted to westernize, others did not, there was tension. For those that did, the west was only too happy to loan them money and build their infrastructure, but the cost was great. Imperialism now had a foothold in the Muslim world. With the west came new ideas, exploitation, corruption, and plenty of trouble for the old ways of Islam.
One of these new ideas was nationalism, Regardless of a Muslim’s ethnic background, he was to be loyal to his faith above anything else. The influence of the West caused the various ethnic groups within the Muslim world to divide themselves along nationalist lines. These new divisions were exploited by the West. For example, in World War I. Lawrence of Arabia convinced Arabs to fight against the Ottomans, on the promise that a national homeland could be created for them. But then the Brits made a secret deal to divide up coveted Arab lands between themselves, France, Russia and also create a homeland for the Zionists. In the end the Arabs felt as though they had bled for Britain and fought against fellow Muslims all for a lie. They bitterly rejected Britain but they did not reject the British idea of a national homeland, separate from other Muslims.
The Jewish Arab Problem — “If God is dead he died trying to solve the Jewish Arab problem!” The foreign idea of nationalism is what finally caused Islamic groups to revolt against imperialism, but it is also what kept them permanently fragmented. Thanks to nationalism the dream of a greater multi ethnic pan-arabic state would not be realized. This fragmentation was most noticeable with the survival of the Jewish state. It is the single reason for the failure on the part of five Arab nations to crush Israel in 1948. Jordan was willing to cut deals with Israel in order to expand its own borders. Egypt didn’t want another Arab state so close to challenge its authority, the Saudi’s felt the same so they argued about how to carve up Israel once they conquered it, Syria had it’s on designs for Palestine. Israel took full advantage of the bickering factions and crushed them all. After the loss, these Muslim countries spent decades blaming each other. The Palestinians were the biggest losers of all. The Muslim nations cared little for them when they were arguing about how they were going to divide up Palestinian land among themselves. After Israel won, it was expected that these Muslim nations would absorb the Palestinians into their nations like the Israelis had done for displaced Jews, but the Muslim countries resisted this idea, and so the Palestinians were left without a place to belong and so it remains. It was only after the loss to Israel and the snub by Muslim countries that Palestinians embraced a nationalistic fervor.
Since the debacle with Israel there has been many efforts to unify all Arabic speakers into one nation, but the vision of a pan Arabic state always falters in the face of nationalism. In the minds of many Muslims, Israel is the ultimate western imperialist plot. Ironically, a collective hatred of Israel is the one thing that unifies almost all Arab speaking Muslims.
If there wasn’t oil in the Muslim countries, the global picture would look completely different than it does today. Still yet another irony, is the Western need for oil, which has led to the incalculable wealth of so many in the Muslim world. Much of that wealth has been funneled into a war that seeks to bring down the west and it’s ideologies. This war on the West started to become very noticeable in 1979 when Iran became an Islamic state, since then the call to return to the old ways, to reject the west, to embrace a more radical, more pure version of Islam has spread with alarming speed. For the radically committed, the call to bravery in battle, patience in misfortune, and persistence in revenge has never been more clear.
For Mike Breen, the church is a spiritual family on mission together. According to him this is the clear picture of the early church. It was a family that was radically committed to each other in all aspects of life. If someone had a problem, they all had a problem. This is how the church should be understood today.
What about the gathering? “Public space” as Breen calls it, exists to remind spiritual families on mission together of the story that they are a part of, the “meta-narrative” that drives their life. This part of church is very important. Breen illustrates by saying if the missional communities are torches, they need to regularly gather in a big bon fire to reignite their passion. Torches don’t stay burning forever.
Breen believes that if kingdom movements are going to sustain than they must not be built in such a way as to require leaders and events with endless amounts of training and endless amounts of energy, resources and money. Breen suggests that movements built on large scale ventures and amazing charismatic leaders are not sustainable or scalable.
What is sustainable is having people who know how to invest their lives in others, people who disciple others to disciple others, and who create lightweight and low maintenance vehicles for discipleship and mission. He makes the case that this is the principal way the Holy Spirit has created movemental change.
One of the challenges of a sent, outward focusing, low budget, spread out kind of vision, is that missional communities can lose “spiritual mass” as they continue to divide and fan out. The key to preventing this is to develop orbital patterns in which community leaders regularly orbit back into each other’s lives, their sending group, and other spheres of spiritual influence.
His primary appeal is for the development of passionate spirituality, radical community, and missional zeal in the lives of each follower of Jesus. In the end, he gives no prescriptive way to lead a kingdom movement. He ends the book how he started it by asking the question “What is God saying and what am I going to do about it?” In Mikes story it meant he was to carry an actual wooden cross around Sheffield where he was a minister. It was through this odd start that the 3DM movement began.
I was not captivated by this book, even though much of what it says I wholeheartedly agree with. Perhaps it was the meandering writing style, goofy drawings and over alliterated outlines? I guess I am not sure, it might have been the lack of actual individual stories. The book basically said “This is how it happened, loads and loads of people came to faith, and this is what you need to know.” What I want to know about is the individual stories. Who turned to follow Jesus? What happened? This book didn’t take the time for that.