Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Missional Rewards

Jesus would spare us from wasted lives and wasted eternities! He wants us to know eternal blessing and reward. This we must understand if we are to be effective as his missional people. In Matthew 10: 40 - 11:1 from Jesus’ Sermon on Mission, he explains who it is that will be rewarded…and why.

Those will be rewarded who believe personally the testimony about Jesus. When Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,” (40) he is speaking, first, of trusting & believing the witness of his twelve original disciples. Following their deaths, it was the apostolic testimony – written down in the texts of the NT – which have born witness to his life, death, and resurrection for the past 20 centuries.

Romans 10: 17 says that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” To hear that word is to be awakened to the truth of one’s sinfulness, moved to repentance and faith, and set on the road to eternal life. To share that word is to join the chain of witnesses stretching back to the first disciples. Friends, we would not know Christ apart from the word that bears witness to him. It is through his word that we learn of Jesus’ compassion for the sick and grieving, the lonely and hungry, the harassed and helpless and those who are running far from God. It is through his word that we learn we have the spiritual authority to represent him as his missional people. It is through his word that we understand who we are and how we are to live.

But can we really trust this word about Jesus? My first response to that question would be, "Read it, and find out." The word of Christ is self-authenticating. As we sit down and read his word, asking him to reveal himself through it, we will discover its supernatural power and relevance for our lives. I am sure of this...because I've experienced it again and again. I would also commend to you Mark D. Robert's book, Can We Trust the Gospels? When we read the gospels with the mind and with the heart of faith, we hear the very words of God. Notice that Jesus did not say that welcoming him is like welcoming the One who sent him but that in welcoming him we welcome God; that in honoring his word we are honoring God’s word. (John 12: 48-49); that in receiving his forgiveness and his grace, we are receiving the forgiveness and grace of God himself. When we know that those will be rewarded who believe personally the testimony of Jesus….we will share it.

Secondly, those will be rewarded who join communally the fellowship of Jesus.
Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes a prophet…and whoever welcomes a righteous person…none of these will lose their reward.” When Jesus speaks of welcoming a prophet or a righteous person, he is speaking of those who welcome his followers. More than this, he is talking about the reward and blessing of “joining one’s self to the fellowship of Jesus’ followers, i.e., the Church.

Years ago, I visited a Christian family in Alexandria, Egypt. I and my friends were treated to a delicious meal; and a grand tour of this beautiful city. Standing on a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean, I wondered that in this far away place I could meet people who were my brothers and sisters in Christ. And then I remembered….Jesus and his people had been in this land for 20 centuries. Mark was said to have first preached his gospel in Alexandria; and the gospel message that was shared here had travelled thousands of years and thousands of miles to reach me in America. I was returning home…and though the language and surroundings were strange, the presence of Christ and his people was tangible, warm and familiar. Through his church, I was experiencing the truth of Heb. 13: 8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”

There is a beautiful phrase in the Book of Acts where the early church is described. “And day by day, the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” I believe that as we are faithfully carrying our Savior’s work in prayer and ministry…he will draw others to himself. When we welcome God’s people, and when we become part of the fellowship of God’s people – we will not lose our reward; the closeness, the forgiveness, the unlikely oneness, and the purpose we share as his missional people. When we know that others will be similarly rewarded who join the fellowship of Jesus…we are eager to welcome and invite them to join us.

Finally, those will be rewarded who support practically the ministry of Jesus.
For “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple… none of these will lose their reward.” Three times, Jesus uses the phrase “in the name of.” “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet,” or a righteous person “in the name of” a righteous person, or gives a cup of cold water “in the name of” a disciple will not lose their reward. This little phrase “in the name of” means “convinced that they are” or “in accordance with the honor that is due.” It means that the person is treated well, that they are greeted with honor and respect and supported practically. Jesus is envisioning his disciples on a journey to neighboring towns and describing those who open their homes and support and encourage that ministry.

Whether one welcomes the proclaimer of the gospel (the prophet’s ministry) or the doer of the gospel (the righteous person) or a newborn disciple of Jesus –there is a great reward promised. Notice that Jesus is honored when one of his followers are given even a cup of cold water; and (by extension) that we can support Jesus’ mission in the most simple ways. A cup of cold water can go a long way to demonstrating to the world the grace and truth of Christ. More people die each year from unsafe drinking water than from all forms of violence, including war! More than a billion people—one in every five on earth—do not have access to safe drinking water. There are many ministries today that are sharing the gospel by bringing clean water to places in the world that do not have it. Google "Clean Water Ministries" and you'll see what I mean.

What are some other ways that we give a cup of cold water to the least of these? We do it when we feed the hungry, when we welcome international students, when we care for widows, orphans, unwed mothers, or children in need. This week, I'm thinking about a 17 year old boy by the name of Stephen Holdridge who is very ill at Loma Linda Hospital. Ellery and Renee, his parents, have devoted the last 17 years of their life to caring for this miracle child. Born with a heart defect that deprived him of oxygen; he became one of the first babies in the nation to receive a heart transplant that saved his life; but his brain function was severely compromised. Since that time, Stephen has been hospitalized numerous times…and come back from the brink of death again and again and again. Anyone who has met Stephen knows that he has a kind and gentle way about him…truly one of God’s beloved “little ones.” We’ve learned that mission begins in our own backyard; and Renee and Ellery, from the beginning have embraced that truth. They never threw up their hands in anger or despair; they chose to see Stephen as a gift from God to their family. I have no doubt that they have loved him as Jesus would and and in fact does. Stephen was and is truly one of Jesus’ “little ones.” Pray for Stephen this week!

In a town where I once served as pastor, a local restaurant operator won the lottery – a multi-million dollar reward. After deciding that he would retire and travel, he handed over his restaurant to his long time employees. Now, he handed over to them the business that he had run for more than 30 years not because he needed the money from the business (he was now a millionaire), but because he wanted to share his abundance with those whom he loved so much. Friends, the abundant blessings of God’s mercy and love in Christ are like the biggest lottery jackpot in the universe and we simply cannot keep it to ourselves. We’ve got to spread the reward…we’ve got to share the wealth.

At the end of Jesus’ sermon, Matthew tells us that “When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim the message in their cities” (Matt. 11: 1). Now I don’t know about you…but that sentence surprised me when I read it, because what I expected to read was "Then Jesus blessed them as he sent them out on their first missionary journey....." I assumed that it would be Jesus watching his disciples move out as he cheered them on; but Matthew says that after he was finished instructing, it was Jesus who was on the move again. And where are his disicples? They're watching him! Obviously, he isn’t sending them out alone, he is going with them…and in fact it is Jesus who is leading the way. He's out there in front again; which makes me want to raise a mighty missional shout and a hearty, (let's say it together) “Heah Jesus…wait for me!”

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Missional Division

If Jesus hasn’t said anything that you disagree with, lately, you might need to revisit the gospels; because some of the things Jesus said were truly disturbing and unsettling. Jesus said some shocking things – even for Jesus! Take this statement from Matthew 10: 34-39:

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn " 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law - a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

“Wait a minute,” you say. “That can’t be right. The Jesus I know is all about love and forgiveness and peace. He loves family and wants them to be together, not divide them. There is no way that Jesus would say such stern and terrible words and mean them to be taken seriously. There must be some mistake!”

But Jesus did say these words, and we must seek to understand them on their own terms. Jesus says that he came to bring not peace, but a sword! He did not come to smooth things over and make everything nice; he came to disrupt and confront. He did not come to help us escape from this world; but to send us on a mission to this world. He did not come to buy us a lazy boy; but to enlist us in the battle; a battle in which faith and discipleship to him is the true victory.

The sword that Jesus brings is a sword of division (cf. Luke 12: 51). It slices through the lies, self-deceptions and false-loyalties that fester in every human heart. “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-­edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Jesus word divides truth from falsehood, the old life from the new, darkness from light; so it should come as no surprise that it can potentially separate us from other people, even our families. For “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (35-37). What does it mean to love Christ more than our family?

First, it means that we honor the 1st commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” That is, we refuse to make an idol of our “family.” Parents, in particular, can become so obsessed with their children’s success that they become an extension of their own egos…they teach their children to live for the best schools, or the best jobs, or the best income, or fame and popularity for their sakes -- not for God's sake. As we grow into adulthood, honoring the first commandment may mean that we seek the counsel of our brothers and sisters in Christ even before the counsel of family members.

Secondly, it means that we honor the 4th commandment. “Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.” When we make family activities and hobbies and sports more important than worship, we are allowing the world to shape our priorities. We need to recover the blessing of the Sabbath…of the priority of worship in the life of the family. Worship is not a suggestion for the follower of Christ and his/her family; worship is a commandment. Some may think they are building up their families when they neglect Sunday worship; but in reality they are hurting them…because it is God who binds families together.

Just in case you think Jesus has gone completely off his rocker, loving Christ more than family does not (I repeat, does not) give us license to break the 5th commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.” Listen to Jesus’ words: we are to love him more than family; not instead of family. My primary and undivided loyalty to Christ does not permit me to dishonor my family or abuse them or ignore them. Rather, it mandates that I love them for the sake of Christ. In Matthew 15: 1-6, Jesus himself reminds us of the command to honor father and mother and to take care of our parents; and blasts those who neglect to do so for “religious” reasons. In 1 Timothy 5: 8, the Apostle Paul writes that “Whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially family members has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Nor can we use religious differences as an excuse to abandon our marriages! On the contrary, we are told that the unbelieving spouse can be “consecrated” or “made holy” through the believing spouse (Check out 1 Cor. 7: 12-14). You can and should be a missional presence in your own family. The decision to follow Christ not only separates us from the unbelief of our families, it separates us from indifference and hatred and impatience toward them too. Paul says that by our perseverance in faith, God may use us to consecrate our parents, our spouse, or our family members!

Jesus’ last words in this paragraph are important because they give us hope: Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me….and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (38-39). Jesus calls us to pick up our cross (including the rejection of family); but not without the promise that what is lost will be found. When Jesus says “Take up the cross!” it means the denial of sin and self-centeredness and publicly following him, whatever the cost. Bearing a cross was a public act. Thus, following Jesus can’t be just an inward reality; it must also be an outward reality…and that usually means some kind of sacrifice. This goes not just for individual disciples, but the entire church. For far too long, the church has tried to shape society through worldly power and influence, when Jesus’ model is the way of the cross. We will be most effective in shaping our families and our entire culture when we walk in His way, the way of the cross, of suffering love, the way of self-sacrifice, the way of the servant who leads by humble example rather than through coercion and intimidation.

I’m so glad that after Jesus says, “Take up the cross,” he goes on to say “Follow me!” Why? Because it is the power of Jesus’ royal command to “Follow me!” that enables us to deny self and bear the wonderful cost. At times, following Jesus may look like suicide to our work associates, our classmates, or even our own families; but it’s actually the road to a life that makes sense. I don’t know anyone who understands this better than my wife Lisa whose father Wally rejected her as his daughter when she chose to study at a Christian school of psychology. It didn’t help when she decided to marry a pastor! The rejection she endured was nearly unbearable. It was Christ who gave not only her, but her mother and brother as well, the courage to persevere in loving him and reaching out to him.

Jesus’ final words in this passage give me reason to hope. “Those who try to find (or protect) their life will lose it; but those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Whatever we lose (or give up) for Christ’s sake…we have the hope of finding again, says Jesus. Martin Luther said: “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess" -- and that includes our families. When Lisa’s father died, we found a locked file drawer filled with letters and cards that she and her brother had written to him about their faith in Christ. He saved them all, and the file drawer was labeled, “Oh God!” This made sense, because he once admitted to me that he had “hope” that there was a God and that his life was not just an accident. A friend at our church also had a vision, the night before his death, of Jesus meeting Wally on a hillside with love and welcome. Wally was dressed in kaki pants and a work shirt. Imagine her surprise when she learned from Lisa that it was on a grassy hillside that he died as he was doing yardwork – and wearing his trademark kaki pants and workshirt!

On an even more personal note, my own mother was the first member of her family to follow Jesus. She was invited to church by a friend to Sunday School at Hollywood Presbyterian Church. May God bless the faithfulness of that little girl; because through my mom, not only her mother, but years later her sisters and last of all her stubborn father at the age of 94 (who had been so abusive in his early years) all came to trust in the saving grace and truth of our Lord Jesus Christ. I believe that God can truly consecrate an entire family through one faithful man or woman, boy or girl. I believe it…because I’ve seen it happen in my own family! Whatever we may lose for the sake of Christ and his mission, we have the hope of finding again in him and because of him.

There are many things that threaten families today: divorce, illness, issues related to sexual identity, cultural differences, financial problems, or unbelief….but as followers of Jesus if it is our faith in Him that threatens to divide us from our families we should not fear; because it is Christ who raises the dead and has the power to heal broken families. It is Christ who came to bring not only division, but resurrection.



Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Facing Missional Fear

This past week, an extraordinary national election unfolded before our eyes. Regardless of how you voted, we should wonder at the fact that the first African American presidential candidate in history was elected in a nation that once defended the evil of slavery. We should also pray about the extreme challenges that President-Elect Obama will face. The inaugural address of Franklin Delano Roosevelt comes to mind, spoken on March 4, 1933, as he was preparing the country to face the crisis of the Great Depression: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

In Matthew 10: 24-33, we are listening in on Jesus’ missional inauguration address. Standing before him are not huge crowds of enthusiastic supporters, but a motley crew of 12 disciples who we know now will lead a movement that touches not a single nation but the entire world, from its greatest leaders to its most humble citizens…and not for 4 years or 8 years…but for 20 centuries and counting. Jesus warns that fear itself will be one of their greatest obstacles, and one of their greatest allies; for they can face their fears with a holy fear of God; and the promise of his love.

“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master….” Jesus says; "If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household." As I read these verses, I become acutely aware that persecution is a possibility, but it’s also a privilege (vv. 24-27). Jesus challenges you and me to count the cost of following him; to realize that there will be times when naming the name of Jesus will get us into serious trouble. But this “persecution” for the sake of Christ is also a privilege, for it marks us out as members of his household, members of his family.

I’ve been reading reviews on the film Religulous, a film that's billed as the "No. 1 sacrilegious comedy in America." It's supposedly a documentary, in which comedian Bill Maher (Politically Incorrect) travels the world asking religious practitioners questions about their faith. Though Maher makes fun of every world religion, about two-thirds of the film focuses on Christianity. At the beginning of the film, Maher says he's on a spiritual journey. But instead of interviewing pastors or Christian scholars, Maher poses complicated theological and philosophical questions to truck drivers, a Christian bookstore owner, and an actor who plays Jesus at an Orlando Christian theme park. LA Times movie critic Kenneth Turan said Maher's "reliance on skewering people who are no match for him in glibness, persuasiveness, or even intelligence finally leaves a sour taste”; and Time magazine says, "Maher seems interested less in conversation than in confrontation, so his movie is less essay than inquisition."

I'm glad that Jesus did not call us to be religulous…that is, ridiculously religious. He did, however, call us to be his disciples. “It is enough,” says Jesus “for the disciple to be like the teacher.” I want to be more than a religious convert; I want to be a disciple and apprentice, one who is learning to live my life as Jesus would live it if he were me. It’s a privilege to be a disciple; to be called to imitate the life of Jesus…and walk in his ways, to speak his words and do deeds of sacrificial love as he did; and as we do – despite persecution or mocking or skepticism -- the power (not the ridiculousness) of our faith will be evident.

The second thing I learn from these verses is that those who fear the Father, need not fear anything else (vv. 28-31), for Jesus says: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” When I think of the appropriate fear of God; I think of the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is a magnificent act of God – with a 6000 foot drop in some areas. Many people are drawn to its incredible beauty; but it is also quite dangerous. Every year an average of 4-5 people are killed while visiting the park. Why? As one website states, it’s often due to “overly zealous photographic endeavors.” I think that disregarding the fear of God is something like that.

Let's admit it: we want a safe God; a cosmic homeboy, a Best Friend Forever; but our Lord is so much more than this. Sure, Jesus is the Lamb of God; but he’s also the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Thus he says, “Do not fear those who kill the body; but fear the one who holds the power of eternal life & death in his hands" (28). Augustine summed up this passage in a 4th century sermon: “Let us fear therefore, that we may not fear.” Our problem is not fear itself, but misplaced fear. If we don’t fear God we fear people and what they can do to us. We fear disease, we fear rejection, we fear being laughed at, we fear suffering, we fear a bad economy; but Jesus says that if we have a fear of God …nothing else need terrify us in this world.

My daughters still ask me to go with them into the dark hallways to the bathroom because of their fear of the dark. Why? Because they are more in awe of me …than the darkness. They trust that they can go anywhere in the house without fear because their dad is with them! Friends, we can go anywhere in this world -- or out of this world -- without fear, because the Father is with us.

And so, Jesus ushers us into the presence of the Father with a holy fear, but also with the assurance of his infinite love. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father….so do not be afraid, you are of more value than many sparrows” (29-31). We assume that God is present at great historic moments, like Tuesday night’s election, but we see the true majesty of God in that he is concerned not only about these things… but about ordinary things like the fact that “two sparrows are sold for a penny” (yes, he knows what things cost these days!); or the insignificant things that barely concern us; like a sparrow’s fall to the ground, which Jesus says does not happen “apart from your Father.” Neither the fall of empires nor the fall of sparrows occur apart from his presence (He cares deeply about both, and so should we)! And if God so cares for the least of these …we can be sure he cares for us. Indeed, says Jesus, “we are of more value than many sparrows.” We are made in his image; we have the capacity to carry on his creative work in our world; or to destroy it. He has the hairs of our heads and every cell in our body numbered. We are important to him, and he wants us to value him, honor him, fear him, and love him in return.

Finally, Jesus says, "Whoever acknowledges me before others I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven" (32-22). That is, "Stand up for me; and I will stand up for you!" Many of us are truly afraid of bringing Jesus up in the public sphere. But if we live in a pluralistic culture now, in which no single worldview or philosophy can claim superiority; it is also true that in such a culture we have the freedom to speak openly and reasonably with others about our deepest convictions…while giving others the same freedom. Two years ago, Barack Obama wrote these words in“The Role of Religion and Politics” which I think are very relevant today….

"Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King—indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history—were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. To say that men and women should not inject their “personal morality” into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition."

It’s not only OK to stand up; it is urgent that we stand up. Jesus warns us plainly: the one who denies me I will deny, but the one who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my Father. That’s a sobering remark, for we have all denied our Lord at some point through our words or our actions. It encourages me to remember what Jesus said to his disciples on the night of his arrest: “You will all become deserters because of me this night” (Matt. 26: 31); and then he predicted that Peter, his star pupil, would deny him not once but three times. They would all fail him; they would all falter and stutter and stammer when they were asked, “Who is your Lord who do you serve?” But that warning is not without a word of hope: “After I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee,” Jesus promised them. Their denial would not be final. They would fall, but by his grace and power they would have an opportunity to stand up again for him; and by his grace and power they did…and so can we.

It's time again to stand up and face our missional fears big and small with the liberating fear of God; honoring him above all other priorities and concerns. It's time again to entrust ourselves again to our Lord and Teacher Jesus Christ as his disciples and servants – body and soul; for the sake of his mission to our wounded world.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mission on the Margins

In the sci-fi action comedy 80’s film, Back to the Future, Michael J. Fox plays the part of Marty McFly who unwittingly goes back in time with Doc Brown’s time travel technology and accidentally stops his parents from meeting – thus putting his own existence in jeopardy. The fun of the movie is discovering how Marty will save his own future by returning to the past and ensuring that his parents fall in love. What parallel could there possibly be between this movie, and the situation of today’s church? Simply this: We are finding that we must return to the past, if we are to understand how the church is to thrive in the new millennium.

Jesus’ sobering words to his disciples in Matthew 10: 16-23 reflect the realities of preaching the gospel in a pluralistic society, where instead of one dominant world view, there was a marketplace of ideas, philosophies, and religions. His words reflect the attitude of One who knows that his message does not have a favored place; the attitude of One who knows that he must function on the margins, not in the mainstream of the society in which he lives.

These words are difficult for us to read, and to absorb, because we as Christians have had the home field advantage in Western Society for nearly 1700 years. But those days are no more. The past has become the future. The 21st century church is looking more and more like the 1st century church every day; a church that exists in a pluralistic culture in which no single philosophy or worldview enjoys a favored place. We’re on the margins again; but the good news is, there are great opportunities on the margins; and indeed, it’s on the margins where the missional church does best.

The 1st century was a hazardous place for Christians. When Jesus says, “I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves” he was not having a “bad day” he was being realistic. I think it was my entrance into college at UC San Diego when I truly felt at times like a sheep in the midst of wolves. There were those who wanted to convince me that as a Christian I was a dinosaur… that my convictions were going the way of all superstitions and religious myths. I was also distinctly aware of the fact that I was being challenged as never before to set aside my moral convictions. If I was to persevere in my Christian faith, I was going to need to be prepared in several ways that Jesus alludes to in this passage….

Jesus says, "Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (16). As a follower of Jesus in a pluralistic world, I know this means that I need to be wiser and smarter than ever; to understand what I believe and why. C. S. Lewis once said that “Faith is something your reason has accepted despite your changing moods.” Reason is not opposed to faith; it is a necessary component of faith. But knowledge is not enough. What we know must translate into action. Therefore, Jesus says, I need to be innocent (akerairoi: pure, unmixed) as a dove. That is, I will resolve to live a life that reflects Jesus’ holiness and purity; a Christ-honoring life, which includes a total dependency upon his grace when I fail.

Second, Jesus says, “Beware of people” (17). The one who taught us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us was not na├»ve. He did not have an idealized or sentimental view of human nature. He obviously did not teach that all people are basically wonderful and trustworthy and have our best interests in mind. We only need take a brief but honest inside look to know that people are not God; and that the best and brightest among us are still fallible. Both candidates for the presidency have made reference to their capacity for failure and their need of God's help. That has encouraged me. Let us join together in prayer for President-elect Obama following his historic victory and all our newly elected leaders who will continue to need the strength and wisdom which only God can provide.

Third, Jesus tells us to "speak up!" for “It is not you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you" (19-20). One of the biggest challenges we face as Christians is speaking up; it’s putting in a good word for Jesus when everything and everyone seems to be against us. This is as true today as it ever was in the first century. We desperately need to add to wisdom, and purity, and an awareness of human nature, the power of the Spirit who alone can give us strength to say and do what needs to be done.

Fourth, Jesus urges us to be steadfast, for “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (22). Endurance is badly needed today as we live for Christ in the current political climate. In the past few years, the words of Jesus about enemy love and his golden rule (Matthew 5: 38-44; 7:12) have impressed upon me that war must be the absolute last option rather than the first option; and to promote the peace and love of Christ wherever and whenever possible. Jesus' words and example also call me to love those who resist the boundaries of traditional marriage, while lifting up the lifelong marriage of one man and one woman as a God-given institution that uniquely blesses society and its children (Genesis 2: 23-24; Matt. 19: 3-6). I share these examples because they have challenged me to wrestle with God’s word and the culture around me even at the risk of being out of step with that culture.

Finally, Jesus reminds his church "on the margins" to "be hopeful as you await the coming of the Son" (23). As I live in a culture that does not always support the values and truths which have transformed my life, Jesus calls me to live nevertheless with a constant sense of hope. Why? Because Jesus is coming back; and indeed he has already come in the power of the Holy Spirit to dwell within his people. When we live in the hope of Jesus’ return we are saying that he has the Last Word, no matter what we may be facing. We don’t walk around moping and sad…but ultimately hopeful.

From the earliest days of Christianity, Jesus’ followers adopted purple (the color of Roman imperial power) as the color of Christ’s kingly rule. It was a very intentional way of declaring, from the margins, that their allegiance was to the King of kings, above all emperors, kings, princes, parties, and powers. Today, the past has once again become the future. As we engage in Christ’s mission on the margins, I believe Christ is challenging us to forsake the notion that we are red Christians or blue Christians and adopt the purple robes of faith. More than a wishy washy hybrid of red and blue, purple is the color of repentance and humility, the color of the crucified and risen savior, whose kingdom is advanced not by earthly power or politics, but by the power of the Holy Spirit through a community of prayerful love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.