Roy Oksnevad is director of Muslim Ministries at Wheaton College through the Billy Graham Center.
Shame Encountering Jesus
The other day I met with my friend Ali. We discussed about God’s redemptive work, but we talked about it from a different angle. God desires to bring us up from the shame we face in this world. The example I used was Zacchaeus taken from Luke 19.
Zacchaeus held a position in which he was shamed by everyone concerned. He was a Jew, who collaborated with the occupying rulers, and had become rich through his lying and scheming. As a collaborator, he did not mix well with the Jewish crowds. Zacchaeus was hated as a collaborator with the occupiers and oppressor of his people, so he ran ahead of the crowd and hid in a sycamore tree to meet Jesus.
Jesus stopped in front of Zacchaeus and talked to him. If Jesus could see Zacchaeus, so could the crowd. We can only imagine the tension that day when Jesus walked past that tree.
But Jesus did a remarkable thing. He shifted the hostility of the crowd away from Zacchaeus and on to himself.
Jesus chose to give honor to Zacchaeus by inviting himself to spend the night with him. The despised one becomes the honored one. Jesus, the honored one, is now shamed for eating with a despised one.
My friend Ali’s face lit up. You see, Ali is a former Muslim. He is despised by his own people as someone who is a collaborator with “Christians”. Often, there are feelings of shame and inferiority with which he wrestles. Those in his church just do not understand what goes on internally. But here, Jesus brings great honor to Zacchaeus by going to his house to eat with him. Jesus’ work of redemption is seen throughout his ministry—not just on the cross. This act of redemption caused Zacchaeus to become an honest man who responded with restorative justice by paying back four times the amount stolen.
Sharing Christ in culturally sensitive ways can open great doors in sharing the gospel to people who have a different worldview.
For more examples, read Kenneth Bailey’s Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (IVP Academic, 2008).
Do you have a Zacchaeus-like experience? We'd love to hear about it! Let's continue the conversation on our facebook page!
Posted February 24, 2013
Eric Durbin is Coordinator of the Billy Graham Center Museum.
Going Deeper with the Golden Rule
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The Golden Rule is well-known, well-esteemed, and often just plain wrong. In so saying, I defy a wide range of cultural, religious, and philosophical belief systems throughout hundreds of centuries, and even confront words spoken directly by Jesus.
A lot has been said about the Golden Rule. Every major religion has an articulation on this guiding principle. The Rule bespeaks a global maxim, a universal morality. From ancient Egypt and Levitical law we have our earliest renderings of the phrase. Over 100 million online search results reveal contemporary best practice for “putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.” There are Golden Rule names of insurance companies, school curriculums, and award-winning TED talk presentations.
The Golden Rule has become synonymous with altruism, empathy, and compassion—a self-evident moral obligation that will lead to utopian peace and justice. But there is something deeper in this ethical code that we dare not ignore.
There are those who argue against the Golden Rule. Mostly, the arguments stem from logic rhetoric and exceptional, hypothetical circumstances. Proponents will throw around terms like Just War theory, moral autonomy, relative truth, and justification of the strong. Among virtually all cultures and communities, however, there is strong evidence that living by the Golden Rule generally makes better citizens and happier people. And to the most difficult arguments, let it suffice that devoted followers of Jesus walk in communion with an Omniscient Spirit, a Sovereign Lord, and a Benevolent King who guide the way.
So what’s the problem?
My quarrel with the Golden Rule is this: What if how I want to be treated is different from how another would want to be treated? My objection is in the irony of how this great ethic of empathy is practicably implemented—with a question that is entirely self-referential: “What would I want?”
This is not always difficult to answer, even with selflessness. Intuitively, people use their gift-giving experience to take into account the tastes and preferences of the recipient. But what about the subtler aspects of “doing unto others”?
What about offering encouragement or inspiration, or expressing gratitude or love?
What about communicating trust or challenge to an individual, a person with unique motivations and perceptions of the world?
Why would we not seek to better know our neighbor while we seek to love our neighbor as ourselves?
Hosea 10:12 instructs to "sow for yourselves righteousness and reap the fruit of unfailing love." Author Gary Chapman explored this righteousness kind of advanced-level service when he articulated the existence of distinct love languages. Personality assessments draw out similar awareness of individualized make-ups and sensibilities. The mission community stresses the importance of contextualization for effective ministry. These value-frameworks reinforce an overwhelming desire of humans to be understood. And only when someone feels understood can that person feel genuine, Golden-Rule service.
Consider this example. Perhaps you are skilled at getting things done. You can fly through tasks with high energy and accuracy. You offer a valuable service in helping someone who feels overcome by the demands of work or life. But if you do not prayerfully take the time to understand that person’s needs, you may miss the fact that he or she would rather have someone speak an exhortation from scripture, or offer a gentle touch on the arm, or simply focus on him or her while he or she tells of a difficult week.
Jesus loved with advanced-level service. He knew people intimately. He listened to people intently. He had just the right word for any person in any circumstance. In connecting with all kinds of people, he demonstrated deep focus and understanding. He calls us to notice others’ needs with the same intensity and intentionality.
The world, at its best, seems willing to try on the other person’s shoes. “Now,” it asks, “what would I want?” God calls us to a higher standard. Applying biblical truth, we are called to serve in the specific manner that most deeply communicates love and understanding for that other person. This requires skill to do well, and a continual effort to develop such skill.
Learn about others in your life.
Notice how they tend to show love.
Listen to what grumbles or grieves them.
Ask them gently probing questions about experiences that have made them feel valuable.
Sow generously these righteous seeds of understanding and reap, more and more, the harvest of a love that does not fail.
Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes means more than projecting on him or her your own best outfit. Don’t treat someone else exactly as you’d want them to treat you.
And don’t stop at imagining how they want to be treated. Learn how they want to be treated. And serve better.
How have you seen the Golden Rule played out well? Not well? We'd love to hear about it! Let's continue the conversation on our facebook page!
Posted February 18, 2013
Laurie Nichols is Communications Coordinator at the Billy Graham Center.
A Magnificent Paradox
Growing up Catholic, I had a view of God that could be characterized by the passage of Isaiah 6:1-5:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim…. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips…"
There was an overwhelming sense of the bigness of God, the smallness of me, and the depth of my sin. God was magnificent. Magnificent in power, strength, holiness, character, physical size, in every way. Nahum 1:3b describes it this way: “His way is in the whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.” To this day, I often find myself looking up at the puffy clouds on a sunny day and finding great comfort in knowing that my big God is walking around, overseeing his creation and tending to his work.
Admittedly, it was this very bigness of God, though, that made it impossible for me to draw near to him—I simply could not relate to him and could not feel as though I was worthy of drawing near enough to get to know him. It was a ridiculous idea really—trying to have a personal relationship with a God who was unfathomably large!
Indeed, when I accepted Christ as my personal Savior ten years ago, I discovered that it in fact was not a ridiculous idea, but the most brilliantly thought-out one I had ever heard. So I found myself on a journey to reconcile this large and magnificent God with one I was finding to be kind and gentle, full of compassion and goodness. I had fallen in love with a personal version of God—the “Jesus part” of the Trinity, who “when[he] knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).
Somewhere along the way I did realize that the two—big and magnificent and personal and loving—aren’t distinct, but are in fact two very wonderful images of the same God who is manifested in too many ways to count. There is no more perfect time of year to reflect on this than during the Resurrection season. The same God whose holy wrath could only be quenched by placing his anger for sin on something, chose Someone to place it on. Himself. The same God whose love for the world brought him to humble himself for a people who hadn’t even asked was also the One whose eyes were too holy to even look upon sin.
To the human mind, this intersection of two seemingly opposite ideas—a big, holy, mighty God and a personal, loving, gentle God—is simply incongruous. But it works. And it is an essential component of the Christian faith, that if realized by each of us, could alter the very way we live our lives and interact with others. A.W. Tozer says it this way:
The whole outlook of mankind might be changed if we could all believe that we dwell under a friendly sky and that the God of heaven, though exalted in power and majesty, is eager to be friends with us.[i]
Isaiah phrases it slightly differently:
For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is holy. “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” (Isaiah 57:15)
Our awesome and mighty God is also our friend. Our big and mighty God demands our worship and adoration, but he is also our greatest empathizer and our best shoulder to cry on. He holds the universe in the palm of his hand, but he also catches our tears in a bottle. He has complete sovereignty over life and death, but he also lovingly writes our names in his book of life. That is a paradox worth living and dying for.
Today, when I look up at the sky and see the dust of my big God’s feet, I also see the leaves on his trees, waving at me to and fro, to and fro. Saying hello. Reminding me that he is magnificent, but that he also, “having loved [me]… love[s] [me] to the very end.” And that’s true for you as well.
[i] Tozer, A. W. 1961. The Knowledge of the Holy. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 83.
How have you experienced God recently? How is this meaningful as you enter this Lenten season? We'd love to hear about it! Let's continue the conversation on our facebook page!
Posted February 12, 2013
Chris Castaldo is Director of the Ministry of Gospel Renewal at the Billy Graham Center.
We Need Genuine Revival!
There is one thing on which most Christians agree—we need genuine revival. Faced with rising violence, an economic recession, and a growing sense of despair, we recognize that our fundamental challenge is not political or social; it is spiritual. And because such challenges require divine insight and strength, we stand to benefit from reviewing the landscape of Christian history to learn from previous generations. Of the many persons and movements one might consider, Charles Haddon Spurgeon is especially instructive since his legacy demonstrates precisely what is most needed today.
When the 19-year-old Spurgeon received a call to the New Park Street Church in April 1854, the church was fledgling and less than healthy. Within ten months, however, the congregation grew to such a size that it was forced to move to Exeter Hall. Before long, even Exeter was inadequate, which caused another move, this time to Surrey Gardens Music Hall where Spurgeon preached to over 9,000 men and women each Sunday.
The ministry continued to flourish, so much that on October 7, 1857, the Prince of Preachers (as Spurgeon became known) addressed a record crowd of 23,654 people in the famous Crystal Palace. Something extraordinary was happening.
More than Talent
It was March 1861 when Spurgeon’s congregation finally moved to the Metropolitan Tabernacle, where he would preach the next 31 years and personally see over 14,000 men and women acquire faith in Christ. While there, he started an orphanage, the Pastor’s College, and eventually produced an avalanche of published sermons that would circle the globe. Such fruitfulness naturally raises the question: “Why did God use C. H. Spurgeon in such a profound way?”
The exceptional nature of Charles Spurgeon’s gifts is undeniable (as his sermons demonstrate). However, in response to the above question, Spurgeon provides a different answer:
“If we had the Spirit sealing our ministry with power, it would signify very little about talent. Men might be poor and uneducated, their words might be broken and ungrammatical; but if the might of the Spirit attended them, the humblest evangelist would be more successful than the most learned divine, or the most eloquent of preachers.”
After reading this quote, I imagined Spurgeon mounting the Metropolitan’s pulpit, where he customarily repeated to himself, “I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe...”
Such has been my own practice over the last decade of preaching, following Spurgeon’s example (the only part of Spurgeon that I can effectively emulate).
Herein is a lesson. Mental strength and eloquence of speech (for those of you who possess them) may gather large crowds and earn you recognition, but it is only the power of the Spirit that can reach into a human soul to bring transformation. And this, my friends, is what our nation and world needs the most: genuine gospel transformation.
The Reality of Revival
Spurgeon’s ministry was devoted to revival; he would settle for nothing less. In his own words, “Death and condemnation to a church that is not yearning after the Spirit, and crying and groaning until the Spirit has wrought mightily in their midst.” In order for this to happen, however, Spurgeon realized that the Spirit needed to first engage his own soul. Therefore, in his sermon titled “My Prayer,” he remarks:
“The prayer before us, ‘Quicken Thou me in Thy way,’ deals with the believer’s frequent need. . . You yourselves know, in your own souls, that your spirit is most apt to become sluggish and that you have need frequently to put up this prayer, ‘Quicken Thou me.’ If there is a prayer in the book which well becomes my lips, it is just this.”
After first seeking personal renewal of God’s Spirit, Spurgeon then prayed for his church. In a message titled “One Antidote for Many Ills,” he writes:
“This morning’s sermon, then, will be especially addressed to my own church, on the absolute necessity of true religion in our midst, and of revival from all apathy and indifference. We may ask God for multitudes of other things, but amongst them all, let this be our chief prayer: ‘Lord, revive us; Lord, revive us!’”
Examples of this sort of prayer are numerous. The point is simple: the pursuit of revival was a priority for Spurgeon. And what was the outcome of his request? During the years when Spurgeon prayed, Protestant churches in London saw a 60% increase in attendance, exceeding the population growth of the city. It was also in this time when the Spirit moved powerfully in America, especially in the winter of 1857-1958 through the noontime prayer meetings of Fulton Street in Brooklyn, New York. As both sides of the Atlantic saw waves of revival, Spurgeon noted in 1859, “At this time, the converts are more numerous than heretofore, and the zeal of the church groweth exceedingly.”
Revival in Our Day
As our friends, co-workers, neighbors, and loves ones encounter deeper levels of despair, the Church is poised to direct the world’s attention to the gospel of Christ in whom we find the light of spiritual revival. Here is how Spurgeon articulated the vision:
“We must confess that, just now, we have not the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we could wish….We seek not for extraordinary excitements, those spurious attendants of genuine revivals, but we do seek for the pouring out of the Spirit of God…. The Spirit is blowing upon our churches now with His genial breath, but it is a soft evening gale. Oh, that there would come a rushing mighty wind, that should carry everything before it! This is the lack of the times, the great want of our country. May this come as a blessing from the Most High!”
The revival that Spurgeon describes may very well be on our horizon, unobservable to the naked eye. Through the eyes of faith and against the backdrop of ages past, however, we may see enough of its glow to believe that it exists. Whether it remains off in the distance, or if it should come near, time will tell. In the meantime, why would we not give ourselves to prayer and proclamation in the hope of seeing genuine revival in our own day?
Has God put on your heart to pray for revival? How have you seen God work? We'd love to hear about it! Let's continue the conversation on our facebook page!
Posted February 4, 2013