What difference does the gospel make?
On April 1st 2012 we launched the weekly worship gatherings of The Embassy Church. We are missionaries to the Denver metro area and we have started by engaging the communities that fall within a 5-mile radius of City Park. As missionaries we exegete the community and its residence; we want and need to know who they are and what they see when they look at the world around them. We must know this so we can know how to give them a Gospel saturated view of the world. What would it look like if the Gospel of Christ permeated this community? How would they be impacted if a Kingdom agenda were on full display here? How would their lives be affected if God were famous in this city?
Accepting the Reality
These questions struck me to my core when one of our Embassy team members made me aware of a young man that had been murdered near a High School on Denver’s “East Side.” The school is less than two miles from my home and he invited me to attend a vigil that was intended to minister to the hurts of the community. I accepted his invitation and intentionally disappeared into the crowd. I paid close attention to the countenance of those in attendance. IT WAS HEART WRENCHING! As I looked around I found myself struggling with the look of acceptance on the faces of children. The reality of a mother grieving the loss of her son is becoming routine for them. If there is no change they will grow accustomed to the heartache that this reality triggers. There was a little girl standing near the grieving family and she so reminded me of my own daughter that I am certain that I will never forget her. She was the only child that I witnessed crying uncontrollably. I stared at her for moments on end and it dawned on me that she is in the early stages of accepting the reality. She had not become hardened and this experience was still a shock to her young spirit. Leaders from the community stepped to a megaphone and they assured this little girl and the crowd around her that it does not have to be this way and we can graduate from such a violent assault against the community. I am not a pessimist. I wholeheartedly agree with them; it does NOT have to be this way! There can be change! But I left the vigil unsettled because many of the grievers do not know how this change can come about.
The Blessing of Hopelessness
I see that little girl’s face all over my community now. More to the point, I see the hopelessness that she now represents for me. Often when I discuss what it means to restore this community I get looks of futility. But therein lies the blessing. They have legitimately accepted the fact that they cannot change the circumstances. And I want to state emphatically that they are correct when they assume that they are powerless to do anything! Man’s unilateral attempt at restoration is a cheap Band-Aid at best! In light of this, our hopelessness is a virtue. Our hopelessness paves the way for surrender. Our surrender is the foundation upon which the Gospel is built. The Gospel is the God ordained means of restoring a community…and a city…and a state…and a country…and the world (John 3:16)!
Idolizing the Byproduct
When I say “Gospel” please do not find yourself bound by the bondage of church traditions that have pigeonholed such a great word. We have so demoted the Gospel that now it is merely the means by which we can avoid hell. This is quintessential pride on man’s part. We made ourselves the center of God’s plan. This is the greatest possible display of theological reductionism. Does the Gospel save you from hell? Yes it does. But that is merely a symptom. We are guilty of idolizing the Gospel’s byproduct!!! Jesus did not die so that you could avoid hell; he died so that you may have God! The Gospel of Christ is the means by which God’s restorative grace is going to permeate all of creation. The cosmos relishes in the opportunity to rest at his feet. Christ’s death restores all that is broken and it brings all things back to him. God is the center of the plan.
The Commission of the Hopeless
For me, the most baffling part of this is found in the fact that God has decided to use hopeless men and women to be the vessels of this Gospel. In 2nd Corinthians 5:20 Paul reminds us of our office, our need for surrender, and the nature of our message.
1) If you are in Christ you have been ordained to the office of Ambassador. You represent the King! Consequently, your words, actions, and ambitions have meaning. Fear, while very real, is no longer a hinderer because you do not speak for yourself; you speak on behalf of the sovereign sender. As King, Christ is the possessor of “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). And in his peculiar wisdom he has seen fit to place the seal of that authority on you. As you declare the Gospel you can do so with boldness because you speak with an authority that is otherworldly.
2) If you are a disciple of Christ you have committed to surrendering every area of you life to his lordship. This is essential, as he has decided that he is going to make his appeal through you. As a man, I stand hopeless and destitute in the face of the community’s heartache. But this is my greatest strength; it moves me out of God’s way as he put’s himself on display in his city.
3) The church is the commissioned arbiter of the Gospel (Matthew 16:19). And through us he publishes the “message of reconciliation.” By this, Paul is referring to the fact that the Church has a message that “makes things otherwise” (ἀλλάσσω). We do not have to accept things as they are because we are the voices, hands, and feet of the Gospel. And when the Gospel comes to bear on a city fruit is inevitable. Don’t miss that! The Church is the God ordained front runner in matters of restoration. Elected officials, eduators, para-church organizations, and community leaders should, by God’s grace, supplement the impact that we are making; it should not be the other way around. We are the voices of the ‘message of reconciliation.’ As his ambassadors we are licensed to ‘make things otherwise!’
I often think of that little girl and I pray that God will grant me the privilege of seeing her again some day. If so, I will lay on her words that I should have shouted through the crowd on the day of the vigil. I will share with her the Gospel in its entirety. He did not die simply so you could avoid punishment; he died so that you may have Him, your exceeding joy (Psalm 43:4). I will inform her that God, by way of the Cross, has purchased her entrance into his presence. I will inform her of the fact that the Gospel destroys her despair. I will tell her to embrace her hopelessness; enjoy the privilege of surrender. I will ask her to join me as a messenger of reconciliation in our neighborhood. God’s Gospel has purchased the restoration of the community. And through us he will publish this message.
Striving toward Kingdom Community and Discipleship,