Publication: One-to-One, Winter 2008
JESUS IS CALLING US TO FOCUS OUTSIDE OF OURSELVES-ARE WE LISTENING?
I remember our first telephone. The lines finally came to our country road in the very late 1940’s, and it was a major event. Our first phone was on a party-line that included eight families. If it rang once, the call was for us; if it rang twice it was for another family. We had real “community” phone calls-you never knew who might be listening to your calls.
Hank Williams wrote a song about this: “The lady on the party line is the nosiest thing; she picks up the receiver when she knows it’s my ring; why don’t you mind your own business?”
Things got better later; we finally obtained a private line. And then, after many years, came cordless phones. They were helpful; you could walk around, do other things and talk at the same time, as long as you stayed near the base. Then later came car phones and cell phones. Now we have world phones and blue tooth. You can go anywhere and talk to anyone. (Of course we still do not know who is listening.) Technology is amazing, especially to a non-techie like me!
Technology affects society but is usually way ahead of our ability to catch up with our thinking. A lot of us are still socially on the “party line” locked into a rather small circle, living behind a cultural barrier, though the relational possibilities are way beyond our practice. Some of us still stay very close to our base.
Jesus was miles ahead of His time and culture in the way that He thought. Without modern technology or transportation, He preached a “whosoever” Kingdom. In John chapter 3 and numerous other texts, He invited “whosoever wills” to come and receive life. He continues to call those who follow Him to come to a “whosoever” mind-set.
Jesus’ relationships included the poor, needy, those afflicted with evil spirits, or those who were just culturally different. Then, He instilled His “no barrier mentality” into His disciples who had come from a very narrow background. They heard Him speak and watched Him minister. He closed His instruction to them with a command, “go into all the: world.” He also said, “You will be witness unto me in: Jerusalem , Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth” : (see Acts 1 :8).
When the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost, I the powerful transformation began and the book of Acts’ records the story. The success of the early Church was the result of transformed thinking. Progress came about by instruction, the power of the Holy Spirit, and a continual openness to what the Lord was saying. The apostles and the Early Church leaders remain models for us in how to become “whosoever” thinkers.
We all rejoice when we hear of someone from another race, nation, or culture that comes to Christ. We support and pray for missionaries who take the Gospel into sometimes hostile environments. When I was young, our local church always supported missionaries in Africa through our denomination, but had little contact with African-Americans or other missionaries living locally.
The challenge that we face is how to take the Lord’s “whosoever” and make it personal and not just institutional. The great religious divide in Iraq is an example of that challenge. For years, the strategy was to get the Sunni and Shiite leaders to reconcile. It wasn’t working. Then the strategy changed to get the local individuals to reconcile. That began to work.
Reconciliation is a personal matter. No one can think for us. We must take the “whosoever” thinking of Jesus down to the local and personal level. It is not enough to rejoice that some have world phones if we are still mentally on a party-line. Jesus was a “world-phone”; the disciples were still on a “party-line”; but, they changed and we must also.
The great challenge of the Church is the same that Israel faced. Israel was locked into a sense of cultural superiority. They had a “whosoever” kingdom with a party-line mindset. Some of them changed; some did not. That will be true of us as well.
More and more, the world is coming to us, whether we like it or not. We are being confronted. The question is, will we personally recoil or will we embrace the opportunity with all of its challenges? And there are challenges.
Vernon Simpson was my father. He was the youngest son of a Baptist deacon and sheriff in Alabama. His town was a typical Alabama county-seat town. Dad went away to a Baptist college in Birmingham, Alabama. But all of the normal patterns were shattered by the Great Depression. He had to drop out of college and go to New Orleans where he would find work and attend seminary. New Orleans was very different from his segregated home town. It was a large multicultural city.
Dad joined a local Baptist church where the pastor had a vision to reach south Louisiana’s French-speaking population. Dad went to the bayous where he met and married my mother and started churches.
One church that my father started was in a small village of mixed-race people, accessible only by boat. As a small boy I went with him on the 50 mile journey south of New Orleans and the rowboat ride to the village on Grand Bayou. That experience was burned in my memory because the people and culture were so different.
More than 50 years later, our daughter went to Costa Rica to work with children, married a Costa Rican, adopted five children, and then they had two children born to them and are beginning an orphanage. Our two sons also enjoy “whosoever” thinking and we have a “whosoever” family. Dad and mother’s seed live on.
But this article is not so much about race as it is about grace. The issue is not primarily about going to some distant place, though that may be God’s call. The example of Jesus was located in a rather small geographical area. But His grace flowed wherever He went, and to whosoever He met.
THE APOSTLE PAUL
Paul is another prime example of someone who went from a “party-line” mind to a “whosoever” mind. He was a Pharisee locked into a legalistic, superior mentality. He was hostile to followers of Jesus and he viewed them as a threat. But three things happened: He met the Risen Christ; He was filled with the Holy Spirit; and he received a prophetic word. He would go to the Gentiles.
The apostle Paul received a transformed mind. And he wrote that we can be transformed by the renewing of our mind (see Romans 12:2). That will be necessary if we are to accomplish the will of God.
There are numerous books that testify to the power of a changed mind. Among them are, The Road Less Traveled, Eternity in Their Hearts, and In His Steps. Of course the primary source is the Bible itself.
THE YOUNGER GENERATION
The children of this generation are less hung up on the baggage of my generation. But in many ways they are more needy. Technology has opened their opportunities, but they are often poorly equipped to face real life. Additionally, many young people are segregated from the wisdom and experience: of older generations. Their world is filled with world phones, iPods, Myspace, Wii, and Youtube, while many parents live in a “party-line” social group. The generational issue is our greatest challenge. Christians are losing their children at an alarming rate. We need an immediate mental change toward youth.
Jesus was “child-friendly “. Most of His disciples were still young men. If we fail to reach young people, they will probably not ever be reached. But if reached, youth have the energy and flexibility to affect the world. Jesus’ example demonstrated that. Jesus accomplished His success with youth personally, not institutionally. It is a personal issue.
I like the term “follower of Jesus” instead of “Christian” because today, “Christian” is a cultural status; following is an active pursuit. “Christian” is a group label: following is a personal decision to do what He did and what He does. What will following mean to us?
- A renewed understanding of the love God that sent Him here.
- A renewed look at how He carried out His mission.
- A renewed understanding of “whosoever” thinking.
- A renewed comprehension of the disciples’ transformed thinking.
- A realistic review of our own lives and how we use time and resources.
I haven’t always followed Jesus. And when I did, I was often lagging way behind. I have often grieved over my unwillingness to catch on racially, culturally, or in other ways, to what He was calling me to do. I have no desire to criticize those who haven’t caught up.
I have close associates who labor among the addicted, the poor, and in other countries and cultures. Sometimes they labor in dangerous places. My wife, Carolyn, and I have recently been to South Korea and witnessed the advance of the Gospel in Asia. I am continually encouraged to think larger-to think “whosoever”.
I remain theologically conservative, but am faced with the fact that love must be communicated before trust and truth can be established. I am not in favor of “confrontational” evangelism. I am in favor of loving the lost and I am trying to do so-not just theoretically or institutionally, but personally-one at a time.
The way I see it, we have catching up to do if we are going to follow Jesus. We must catch up to His motives, His message, and His methods. We must catch up to the technological capabilities that are being presented to us. We must catch up in our world view.
And, we must especially catch up with our kids. “Whosoever” thinking will break barriers, put us into new adventures, open us to the Holy Spirit and enable us to hear new prophetic sounds that will mark the path ahead.
Scripture Reference: John 3; Acts 1:8; Romans 12:2