This is what we are about…

This is what we are about:

we plant the seeds that will one day grow;

we water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold promise;

we lay foundations that will need further development;

we provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our own capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.  This enables us to do something, and to do it well.  It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, and opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.  We are workers, not master builders; ministers not messiahs.  We are prophets of a future not our own.

Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Common Prayer – A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

What excuse can we give?


Before I can preach love, mercy, and grace, I must preach sin, law, and judgment. - John Wesley

Some while ago I came across an old tract entitled What excuse can we give? It envisages a scenario of us arriving in heaven and finding a lot of empty seats.  They had been prepared for people whom God wanted to join him, but they had never accepted Jesus because WE had never told them about Him.

It may be an outmoded paradigm, but nevertheless this is a serious question we should ask ourselves.  How many people won’t make it to heaven because we never passed on the vital information?  And how do we justify that to God?  We were too busy?  We had important things to do?  We didn’t want to impose our religious beliefs on others?  I should imagine that such excuses will feel very shallow when we realise how many people have missed out because we didn’t consider the message important enough.

Perhaps the reason why we don’t spend every waking minute talking to the lost about Jesus is that we don’t believe any more that they really are lost.  We like the idea of heaven, but we have airbrushed hell out of the picture because it’s just too distasteful to us.  Can we really believe that a loving God will vindictively punish for all eternity those people who didn’t worship him in this life – just because they didn’t know who he is?  Surely a merciful God would just annihilate them, or even find a way to let them in the back door?

Yet this is not what the New Testament teaches us, no matter how much the likes of Rob Bell try to persuade us that we’ve misunderstood it.  It paints a vivid picture of a terrible doom that awaits the unsaved.  We may legitimately debate how much that picture is literal or figurative, but whichever way we interpret the message, we cannot get away from the fact that the future looks extremely unpleasant for the lost.  Why else would Jesus talk about weeping and gnashing of teeth?

This is the traditional impetus behind mission, whether at home or abroad.  We reach out to the lost not merely so that Jesus can help them in this life, or make them feel better about themselves, but so that he can save them from the wrath of God.  Mission builds not merely on Jesus’ instructions to his own disciples – ‘Go into all the world…’ (Matthew 28:19) and ‘As the Father sent me, so I send you…’ (John 20:21) and the example of the New Testament church – but on an Old Testament image of a God who seeks (Genesis 3:9), sends (Jonah 1:2) and warns (Jeremiah 26:3).

We don’t do much warning these days.  We do a lot more enticing.  Our Gospel is no longer ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand’ so much as ‘God loves you and can solve all your problems.’  I’m not suggesting that we should go back to the days of trying to scare people into heaven by preaching hell and damnation.  But I am painfully aware that on the day of judgment an entire generation could stand up and accuse us: ‘You never warned us!’

God told Ezekiel that he was like a watchman on the city wall (Ezekiel 33:1-9).  If an enemy came to attack the city, and the watchman didn’t warn the people, and they died, it would be the watchman’s fault.  If however he warned them, and they died because they didn’t take any notice of him, it would be their own fault.

As we set out into a brand new year, let each of us resolve to take personal responsibility for warning those in danger.