The Well-Dressed Terrorist

There were terrorists on my campus this morning. I didn’t actually see them, but I’m pretty sure they were dangerous and sowing discord. ISIS? KKK? No, it was the Gideons!

Seriously, a couple of my students came in to our class this morning toting those little New Testaments (plus Psalms and Proverbs) that the nice suit-clad men were passing out to anyone who would accept them. One guy decided to use the book as a starting point for a series of jokes until I finally suggested that he was going to offend somebody and needed to knock it off.

To be clear, my students are not Social Justice Warriors and knee-jerk Leftists by and large. They’re reasonably open-minded people, but many of them have not been brought up to take the claims of Christianity seriously. People talk about how college helps young people lose their faith. Frankly, most of them seem to have a pretty weak grasp on the topic when they come in the door. This doesn’t reflect on them or even on their families as much as it does on us–or the church at large.

When I was growing up, you could ask most people, “Where do you go to church?” and get an answer. If they didn’t go to church, they found that a little embarrassing. “Well, we haven’t been going as much lately, but we used to go to . . .”

Today, lots of people have zero connection with the church and feel zero problem with that. And why? Do we blame their parents, their grandparents, lack of prayer in school, the ACLU, John Lennon?

I don’t blame any of those. I blame us–or at least our predecessors. The church had at least some hold on those parents or grandparents, but somewhere along the way we decided to take it all for granted. Or maybe we–or they–decided that the church was for us (or them) rather than for others.

The church in which my parents met, in a thickly populated part of Kansas City, dwindled until only about a dozen seniors were meeting in the basement. They eventually gave the building to a growing, living congregation. The church in which I grew up, half a mile from my house, faded until they were bought out, lock, stock, and barrel, by another, more active church.

What did those two now-dead churches have in common? They became more inward-looking than outward-looking. They took care of their own needs rather than the needs of the lost. The Apostle Paul could have done that. He could have just taken care of that church in Antioch and focused on organizing potlucks and prayer meetings. Instead, he went on the road, starting churches all along his route and making sure not to be assume that the next generation would come to Christ.

Those terrorists, those Gideons, came on our campus to disrupt things, to place the Word of God into the hands of people it has not changed. No wonder these guys face hostility from time to time. Happily that hasn’t happened at JCCC. We’re still open to some terrorists.



Why? To Take the Gospel to the Ends of the Earth

Motivation-Ends of EarthWhy do you Tune Your Heart? Why do you sharpen the saw of your mind, your body, and your spirit? Perhaps missions, formal or informal, provides your reasons. Imagine God calling you to the high altitudes of Peru and you having to say, “The spirit is willing, but the lungs are too weak!”

Beyond the Manger–Mark 1:38

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

As I type these words, my saintly wife is hard at work, slaving over a hot sewing machine, struggling to craft Aquabats costumes for two of our grandsons.

In the event that you’re hopelessly out of touch with all the latest wonders of popular culture, the Aquabats are featured in a marvelously silly send-up of cheesy super-hero programs. They’re not particularly cool, heroic, or even very fit. Despite these apparent drawbacks, Ira and Uri want nothing more than to dress up like these guys.

At the same time that Penny is sewing the trademark Aquabat utility belt, other people are piling into Best Buy and Target, attempting to pile all the right gifts into their carts. Meanwhile, people plan for parties and dinners. They map out their route to Grandma’s house and make sure the car is full of gas. They play an apparently endless stream of Christmas songs and watch a Charlie Brown Christmas for the forty-seventh year in a row.

All of these activities keep us busy at Christmas. In fact, we might even get the sense that these things are the point of Christmas. Of course, if you darken the door of church during the month of December, you’ll be reminded that Jesus is the reason for the season. But even that can get us off base.

Jesus, it turns out, did not come into this world to be the cute little baby lying in a  bed of hay. He didn’t arrive to instigate retail sales or to put the black in Black Friday. Jesus’ purpose was not to disrupt the working habits of shepherds or cause Magi to travel hundreds of miles.

Instead, Jesus came into this world on a day that we celebrate on December 25, not so that he could do things on December 25. He came to move out beyond Capernaum, to preach to a lost and dying world. “Beyond the Mangers stands the cross,” a Christmas song explains. How true is that?

On this Christmas, as we eat whatever marvels mean family and home to us, as we open gifts and watch children pull on Aquabats outfits, as we travel to family gatherings that may or may not portend peace and good will, let us remember the Jesus who rose from prayer to head out for ministry.

Rather than lying passive in a manger, Jesus headed to the wider world. Interestingly, he gave us the same instruction at the end of his time on earth.

Stranger Brothers–3 John 1:7-8

It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. 8We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.–3 John 1:7-8

Perhaps you read ahead from yesterday’s passage and sat at your computer clucking at me, wagging a finger and accusing me of taking those verses out of context. Let me assure you that I realized John was not here suggesting that we give to every believer. However, I don’t really care, since I can marshal plenty of other references that do command us to care for every believer. But let’s look to the particular strange brothers mentioned in yesterday’s verses.

It seems that the visiting brothers mentioned in 3 John 1:5-6 were missionaries of some sort. That makes them not only strange brothers but stranger brothers. For the life of me, I can’t think of many vocations much stranger than being a missionary. Take an old church-mate of mine, Mark. Mark gave up a fine job–better than mine–and a fine house–better than mine–and, worst of all, a 1965 Corvette. He moved from the splendor and comfort of American suburbs to the squalor and unease of Kenya. In fact, he and his family had to beat feet out of Kenya a few months ago when political violence broke out. Is there anything much stranger than somebody willingly choosing that sort of a life?

Perhaps I’m disclosing myself as terribly unspiritual, but I regularly thank God for not calling me to full-time missionary work. I can’t see myself in Kenya or China or Yemen or even inner-city Houston. I haven’t been called to that sort of thing, which is good, because I know that when you are called, it’s awfully hard to resist. Those who are called tend to be–well–stranger than me.

Only a minority hears that call to active missions, but all of us have a call to support missions, just as the church to whom John writes. We can support individuals going on mission trips financially or in other ways–maybe just mowing their grass. We can give money to missionary organizations. We can host missionaries when they come into our presence. This is a call for all of us, and we will be blessed when we answer it, just as Mark was blessed when he sold that Corvette.