Saturday, March 31, 2012

Good News, Good Works and Grace--Part 2

Continued from yesterday...

So we as a church body seek to live and breathe grace, which makes for a beautiful environment when we do it, and reminds us how much we need grace when we neglect to do it.   As in any culture, many seemingly unrelated aspects of the culture are truly inter-related and integrated.  A culture could not exist without all of the individual parts.  Some of the main parts of our church culture are an attitude of grace, an involvement by the majority in some sort of ministry, and a sense that good works are essential to our witness.  Church does not exist unto itself, but exists to reach out.  If we stop growing, like any living cell, we begin to die. 

Such a perspective also helps keep the church from spending too much time in what Neil Cole calls the “Christian ghetto.”  (church3.0, pg. 54).   We don’t want to lose contact with our unsaved neighbors, family members and friend.  The community does not exist to serve the church.  Quite the contrary, the church exists to serve the world.  Its primary mission is spiritual.  The gospel is very good news from God to man regarding the hope we have through the person and work of Jesus Christ.  It is revealed through His Word, the Bible, and is communicated by members of His family, who affectionately call each other “brother” and “sister.”  Through an understanding and acceptance of this good news by faith, man experiences a new birth.  Something marvelous and mystical happens.  One’s relationship with his Creator changes.  One’s heart is stirred.  Living water begins to flow from the inside out.

If we lose either a clear focus on the communication of the Word of God, or an outward-looking vision to reach those not yet part of the family, the church quickly is diminished, and degenerates into a sort of glorified Kiwanis chapter or a bizarre sub-culture where “God bless you” loses all its sacred meaning, and ends up being Christian-speak.  In our young church, we resist using hermano and hermana as the standard, catch-all greeting, all too common in other churches.  Why?  Because it’s too easy to use “brother” and “sister” as a cover-up to the fact that I don’t remember someone’s name!  Love remembers your name.  I can’t imagine Jesus greeting one of us in heaven, and hesitating a bit…  “Hey, Peter, what’s this guy’s name again….?!”

 Back to Jessica, and her daughter Jessica, and her son Alexis.  Two weeks ago, Jessica the mother  prayed to accept Jesus as her Savior.  Last week, both Jessica, now thirteen, and Alexis, now nine, also prayed, putting their faith in trust in the Lord.  Both Mayra and Aurora commented that they both ended up crying as they witnessed the tender, sincere, honest prayers of two young kids. 

I remember seeing Jessica seated by the water tower last year, talking to a friend, watching her kids play basketball.  We have now run a total of six ten-to-twelve week semesters of community center activities, with a closing ceremony at the end of each one.  Jessica brought her kids to our activities from the very first course.  Her children benefited from our good works, done in Jesus’ name, offered with an open hand—free of charge.  She saw God’s love in action, even though she did not actually attend any formal church activity till nearly two years later. 

Over the past two years we have offered guitar and keyboard classes, baking classes, and 3-4 days of English classes every week.  Mexican folkloric dance and even country line dancing, martial arts and knitting classes, as well as basketball and street hockey have been offered to the community at no cost to them.   One of our church members offers physics and math classes on Saturday morning, and others have helped paint an evangelistic mural that gives a constant, 24/7 witness to the truth and power of the gospel, right in the middle of the community in which we minister.  We have hosted several medical brigades, where dentist and medical care is offered free of charge, and a local Christian veterinarian gives rabies shots free of charge.  We’ve cut a lot of heads of hair. 

The liberating aspect of good news combined with good works is that are message is fortified by the strength of our praxis, our community-impacting works.  Such an integrated approach is a seed-sowing one.  Results are not automatic or quick.  But when people realize that your consistent smiles and friendship, combined with something that is truly beneficial to their lives, is not motivated by money or by some ulterior motive (at least not one that they understand), at some point they just might be interested in the “why” behind your service.  They will be much more open to hear about your Savior, if they feel some of His love first.

When Jesus was asked what were the greatest commandments, He answered, “Love God with everything within you, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  Maybe He was on to something.

Quote of the Day: Matthew 5:13-16
“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.
“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

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