In the past ten years I have been challenged to think of missions not only terms of the far flung nations, but also in the context of my own localized situation. It informs who I am and how I respond to my culture within the daily rhythms of normal living. Missional living means showing kindness to strangers, even when they treat me with animosity. It means joining social justice with redemptive and prophetic proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It calls me to demonstrate publically what I write in this obscure blog. More importantly, it calls me to aspire to Christ-like living both privately and publicly, hence the term Christian.
As a follower of Jesus I have always had a soft spot for the underdog, the person seemingly forgotten or marginalized. In part, this might be because I personally identify with those who are often overlooked. But more importantly, I care because Jesus cared.
Jesus paid special attention to those persons who were despised by society. The lepers. The Samaritan woman at the well. The repentant prostitute. The dishonest tax-collector, reviled by his peers, shunned and alone in his avarice. The little children and their families who sought a blessing. The Roman Centurion who was despised as a commander of an occupying force, yet who also demonstrated marvelous faith. The fishermen, often selfish and jockeying for position. The Pharisee, Nicodemus, who came to him at night as a representative of his colleagues, thus providing the context for what is arguably one of the most beloved passages of the Bible, John 3:16.
Jesus was often surrounded by the crowds, most of whom themselves lived on the margins of a declining society occupied by the corrupt and brutal territorial regime of King Herod. He defined incarnational living, by virtue of being fully human and fully God, and carrying out his ministry as an outflow of extraordinary daily decisions and actions. We are called to lived incarnationally as well, since the Holy Spirit resides in us (believers) as the promised Paraklete (often translated as Counselor or Comforter; meaning literally called alongside) who indwells, empowers, emboldens, counsels, comforts and advises.
As I start my day I ask God to give me wisdom and to fill my mouth with songs of praise. As I travel through town and visit necessary stops along the way I ask God to inform my choices and flow through the words I speak and the countenance I present. As I converse with others in varied circumstances, whether at work, church, in the marketplace, in public venues and transportation, or any other opportunity which presents itself, I ask God to shine his light and love through me. Through my actions. My words. My expressions. My responses to others. I do these things so that my gentleness may be evident to all and so that God’s fame may be spread abroad in the simplest acts, or the most profound moments. Whether it is the way I treat a restaurant waiter as someone of whom I am not aware observes, or perhaps the way I conduct my driving through the city as others secretly take notice, unknown to me, I must be intentionally missional and incarnational in my conduct. Then someday, more often than I suspect, my conduct will translate into positive expressions of witness for Jesus Christ.
There is no on or off switch to missional living. I either am, or I am not. I either seek to follow Jesus’ example, or I do not. Unfortunately I too frequently fall short in this regard. Yet, I long to follow the best I can the example which Jesus demonstrated for us with regard to his concern for others, his potent compassion. Perhaps if I were to risk thinking of myself as a missionary to my culture (kids and adults alike), rather than strictly a volunteer Children’s Pastor in a small local church, it would have profound ramifications for my conduct in the days to come, informing the use of my time, resources, passion and prayer.
In this process of beginning to think beyond pre-existing structures which have temporarily been laid aside, I sense a pattern of formative critical decisions emerging on the horizon, some likely nearer than I now suspect. For now, prayer and thoughtful biblical study, coupled with continued exegesis of the culture provide ongoing touchpoints for generative reflection concerning what might lie ahead and possible ways forward in realizing newly birthed dreams.