The Bible Project Pt 6: The Mission in Jeopardy

With Abram’s decision to listen and go, God’s rescue project is back underway. Everything that went “wrong” in Genesis 3 is now going to be set right. Abram indeed has a family—a couple of sons, in fact (Genesis 16-21). Then those sons have a couple sons (Esau and Jacob; Genesis 26-28), and eventually we get down to 12 brothers who form the beginnings of this nation that will “bless the whole world” (though they are still just a family, not a nation… yet). One of those brothers, Joseph, ends up in Egypt and actually rises to great status and honor in that nation, and as part of Abram’s family, it’s easy to see how this rise in status will help bless the whole world because, well, it’s easy to equate power with blessing.

But as the years pass, something goes amiss, and the “rescue project” begins to experience a major challenge. Exodus 1:8 says that, “a new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph,” and with that innocuous statement, the wheels begin to come off. The Egyptians end up enslaving Abrams family—the rescue project—and forcing them to build cities for them.

How will the blessing move forward now?

In Exodus chapters 4-12, God demonstrates clearly—first to Moses and then to Pharaoh—that the blessing will not be held captive, culminating with the great release of Israel in chapters 12-14.

God’s agenda—the mission to rescue and restore—will not be denied. It will not be held captive, not even by the pre-eminent world empire of the day. The people are set free from their slavery in order to—and this is critical to understand—to get the blessing back on track.

Freedom is not the only point of Exodus; mission is.

This point is born out in the rest of the book of Exodus. In Exodus 19, God tells His people plainly what His hopes for them are:

“You saw what I did to the Egyptians, and how I lifted you up on eagles’ wing and brought you to me. So now, if you faithfully obey me and stay true to my covenant, you will be my most precious possession out of all the peoples, since the whole earth belongs to me. You will be a kingdom of priests for me and a holy nation.” (vv4-6a)

To break this down:

  • Identity is rooted in God’s gracious acts. God released His people merely because they needed to be released, not because they had done anything in particular to warrant his act. He moved before people were able to “deserve” it.
  • Being faithful to God means being a kingdom of priests.
  • Priests, by definition, exist to “intercede” to mediate or “come between” God and those who seek to meet Him.

As God’s mission gets back on track, He does a couple things to prepare this fledgling nation of priests. First in Exodus 20, God gives them a set of basic guidelines—we know them as the 10 Commandments—to live by. This is to be the basic code of life for God’s people so that they can be this nation of mediators, of priests, to the rest of the world. (Notice that these guidelines are not given so that Israel can earn God’s love; God has already unilaterally shown His love for His people by releasing them from slavery. The Law is given after freedom, in order to help His people live out their mission.)

Second, God establishes a “dwelling place” in the midst of His people. Much of the rest of Exodus, from chapter 25 to 40:33, is filled with the instructions of how construct “The Tabernacle” (or “dwelling place”): what materials to use, how to arrange them, what goes inside, who will maintain it, how they will dress, etc., etc. Another book of the Old Testament (Numbers 2) tells us that the Tabernacle sat at the exact center of the camp, and that all of God’s people would camp around it. Finally, everything finally culminates in Exodus 40:34-38—the last four verses of the book—when God enters the Tabernacle:

“When Moses had finished all the world, the cloud covered the meeting tent and the LORD’s glorious presence filled the dwelling. Moses couldn’t enter the meeting tent because the cloud had settled on it, and the LORD’s glorious presence filled the dwelling. Whenever the cloud rose from the dwelling, the Israelites would set out on their journeys. But if the cloud didn’t rise, then they didn’t set out until the day it rose. The LORD’s cloud stayed over the dwelling during the day, with lightning in it at night, clearly visible to the whole household of Israel at every stage of their journey.”

With these words, the Bibles gives us a picture of how God’s mission should work:

  • God has a people
  • He—and worship—is at their center
  • They move when He moves, and stay put when He stays put
  • The world comes to God through His people (the Church); they exist to introduce the world outside to God

Rather than being just an ancient tale of miracles, wandering and tent-making, Exodus gives us the model of mission for God in the world.

 

The Bible Project, Pt 5: Rescue Begins

To read The Bible Project, Pt 4 click here

To review:

• God created.
• God created humanity in His image, with freedom and authority
• That creation got fractured in a big way, but God responds with mercy and grace

But there’s still a long road ahead, and the central problem is this:

Creation is broken; what is God going to do about it?

From Genesis 3 to Genesis 11, evil and chaos spread over the earth, but then when we get to Genesis 12 something interesting happens:

A man named Abram hears something.

“The LORD said to Abram, ‘Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, those who curse you I will curse; all the families of earth will be blessed because of you.’

Abram left just as the LORD told him, and Lot went with him.

With those few lines, everything changes, and God reveals His plan:

• Abram is going to have a family/nation
• God is going to “bless” (fix) the earth
• This blessing is going to come through Abram and his family

With that, God’s “rescue project” is underway. His plan is to deal with the fracture of Genesis 3 through a people.

This passage also says two additional things about God and His story:

First, this God calls. The Bible doesn’t tell us how many people God actually spoke to, only that Abram listened. Regardless, God is a god of invitation, of extension, of welcome. We just have to learn to open our ears (or eyes) to hear Him.

Secondly, in the same way that God gave humanity “work” to do in the garden, God gives humanity work to do to help in the rescue of His creation.

(He obviously thinks a lot of us).

Put another way, God seems to be saying, “You were part of this problem (the brokenness); now you’re going to get to be part of the solution.”

Hidden inside this pronouncement is something else that will have a profound impact on the story. As the rescue project moves forward, it will be marked by three characteristics:

  1. It will be a community (“a nation” in v2). The rescue mission involves an invitation to be a part of a people. It is an invitation to connectedness.
  2. It will be marked by purpose (“an agent…”). It exists to be a blessing to the world, to be a part of the rescue project. To that end, to join the family of God is to receive purpose.
  3. It will be marked by holiness (“blessing”). “Holiness” can be a scary word, but in words of Dr. Brian Russell (who pointed out this three-fold framework), “Holiness is just a desire for people to be a little bit better than they are right now.” To join the rescue project is to desire to be a blessing, not a curse, and therefore involves growth in “blessing” things: love, gratitude, joy, generosity, and so on.

Next up: The Mission in Jeopardy

 

A Few Words About Perspective and the Bible

Perspective

Perspective

How you see something—what experiences and expectations you bring—really matters. Take a look at this image. I first saw this in Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (an oldey-but-goody). What do you see?

Do you see a young woman?

How about an old woman?

Both?

This may be a high-school level example, but it still holds true: our perspective governs what we see and experience.

This is no different with the Bible.

Like it or not, we all bring “ourselves” to the Bible, in the form of expectations, baggage, hopes, and various experiences. All of these frame the questions we ask of Scripture. Sometimes these questions are obvious, and we’re aware of them, while other times we aren’t quite clued into what we are asking the Bible “to do” for us as we read it. For instance, it’s easy to approach the Scriptures with the desire to have them

+ make us feel good about ourselves…
+ justify our beliefs…
+ tell us how to get to heaven…
+ tell us about Jesus…

… and on and on. Over time these can change, but we almost always bring SOMETHING to the Scriptures as individuals, and furthermore the church collectively brings questions as well as it goes through time.

I wanted to lay out four broad perspectives that we can bring to the Bible, and make a couple comments and suggestions about them. There are certainly more perspectives (and questions) than this, but somehow I feel like these are the big ones that are shaping our faith today (and starting to shape it for tomorrow).

Reading the Bible with a Soteriological filter means that we are asking, “How can I get saved?” (soter is Greek for “save”). This paradigm maintains that the point of Scripture is to (in older parlance) “tell us how to get to heaven.” Obviously Scripture has a lot to say about the state of our souls, and about God’s desire to save us, but a lot of explicit “saving” language is actually absent from the even the Gospels, and though Paul, for instance, writes a lot about it, he seems to talk about community just as much (if not more).

When we read the Bible with a Christological filter we are reading it through a lense that asks, “What does this tell me about Jesus?” In so many ways, Jesus is the fullest revelation of God’s work on earth: He is Messiah, Son of God, Emmanuel. The Bible is obviously concerned with Jesus’ identity and vocation on earth. The challenge of this paradigm is that frankly it can be difficult to find Jesus in some of the pages of the Old Testament in particular, and when it’s difficult to find “answers” to the question we are asking (“Tell me about Jesus”), it can be easy to simply put down the book and decide that it’s irrelevant.

In my opinion, these two paradigms and filters have dominated the church’s approach to Scripture in our recent age. However, two other paradigms are now entering the discussion that I believe have the potential to really expand our understanding of Scripture.

Reading Scripture with an Ecclesiological filter means we are asking, “What does this tell me about the Church?” In contrast to the both the soteriological and Christological filters, this paradigm starts with community. It assumes that the Church—the People of God—is central to God’s work in the world, and that Moses, Isaiah, Jesus and Paul (along with everyone else who wrote and assembled the canon of Scripture) want to convey that importance. In our individualistic society, coming at the book of Romans, for instance, from the perspective of learning about community can radically change our understanding of Paul’s point. (I believe we actually find that Paul is JUST as concerned with unity and helping us all to get along” as he is in telling us how to be saved, largely because he knows that the unity of the Church between Jews and Gentiles is actually one of the signs that PROVE Jesus was who he said he was. But I digress.)

Lastly, and similarly, we can read Scripture Missionally. This means we are asking the Bible to tell us about the mission and work of God in the world. This paradigm is grand and epic; it does a great job of tying everything together, and runs from Genesis 1 (well, 3 at least) to Revelation. Stated simply, this paradigm maintains that Scripture is telling us how God plans to redeem all of creation and restore it to its original status of being reflection of His character. A missional reading of Scripture unifies the story of Israel, Jesus, Paul and the church along one strong “spine”, and actually thrusts the story forward into our age.

These paradigms are not simply big words to throw around. They really do impact the way in which we read the Bible. We miss so much of the story when we engage in only one way to read it. If you’ve never thought about the Church when you read the Gospels, simply write the question, “What does this tell me about living together as the Church?” on an index card and keep it in your Bible as you read.

The point of all of this is, quite frankly, is to expand the way in which we read and interact with the Bible. It’s too grand a story to be contained by the narrow perspectives that have contained it.

Holy Week, Monday :: Jerusalem :: the Place of Mission

We are hosting early morning gatherings this week. I thought I’d post my reflections on and/or excerpts from my teaching. 

As the time drew near for him to ascend to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. (Luke’s Gospel, 9:51)

‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned. And you will never see me again until you say, “Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ (Luke’s Gospel, 13:34-35)

I believe Jesus knew exactly what was waiting for him in Jerusalem. I think he knew the storm he was stirring up, and that when we walked into the center of the storm, he would encounter pain and suffering and death.

And he went anyway.

He went because, as Israel’s king, he was going to (finally) be the suffering servant that God had wanted Israel to be. He went because he knew that God wanted to take his mission to the whole world, to the people beyond the borders of Israel, but in order to do that someone had to pay the price for Israel’s sin, someone had to end the exile that Israel was in so that the light could go out to all the nations.

In this sense, Jerusalem represents the fulfillment of his mission, and “the road” is the path to that mission. Everything is leading up to this moment, this destination.

I love that phrase, “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”

He strips everything away, and begins to focus on the culmination of his mission. Distractions will no longer be allowed. He has to complete his mission.

As we begin our own journey to the cross on Friday, is there anything distracting you? 

In a sense, our mission this week is to enter into the story of Jesus’ last week. By doing that—by faithfully and compassionately remembering Jesus’ last days, suffering, and death—we are making the story current and real.

  • Can you “resolutely” set out for Friday?
  • Is there something you need to set aside for these final days of lent, in order to allow God to work in your life?
  • What can you do to clear space for your mission this week: to listen to and experience the fulfillment of Jesus’ mission?