Monday, January 3, 2011

Salvation Now

All of my grandparents have passed on from this life. But I do remember being fascinated, talking with them about all they had seen change in their lifetimes, especially in regards to time-saving devices and distance covering mechanisms. They were born during the early development of the automobile and before the invention of the airplane.

I try to imagine what they did for entertainment, since most of what we do is highly dependant on technology. I also cringe at the thought of not having electricity and indoor plumbing. Their world was so much different than mine but not much different than how people lived as far back as 800 years. Our world today is full of speed and instant gratification and I’m afraid it has influenced our idea of sowing the seeds of God’s Kingdom in the world.

Somehow, I believe this has tainted our idea of the biblical idea of salvation. In our zeal to “win others,” we have forgotten the cultivating nature of biblical transformation. The Church has detrimentally gotten in the face of culture and demanded instantaneous evidence (“fruit”) that people who consider following Christ, do so with public demonstration and immediate spiritual character conformity. This helps with demand of tally placed on “growth.” Somehow, the cultivating nature of always carrying around in our body “the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed…” (2 Cor 4) has been wrapped in a shroud of corporate accounting where we presume to be able to detect sheep and goats, wheat and tares, before our very eyes. The biblical emphasis on transformation has become lost. It’s like we’re now standing in front of the microwave impatiently waiting for our oatmeal to heat up.

Transformation is incremental. And it is my strong conviction that salvation is embedded in the transformation process. Many passages that focus on salvation and transformation are easily woven to present a distinct picture of the organic nature of following Christ. One passage comes from what Jesus teaches in John 5:24: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

Notice how Jesus depicts what takes place. One “crosses over from death to life.” The verb used in the original language is “metabainĊ,” and it denotes a characteristic of a journey kind of movement. There is a departure and there is an arrival, but there is also a territory between the two.

Many biblical characters illustrate a developmental maturing as they learn to die to themselves and be raised to new life reflecting God’s universal truth. Think of Jacob, Moses, David, Elijah, Peter, Paul, Lydia…etc.

Nicodemus is a primary example. We see him in John, chapter 3, coming to Jesus at night to ask him questions about God’s truth. It is in the conversation where Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must “be born again.” The irony of this story is the way people have used the concept, “born again” to demand instant verification of Kingdom citizenship. What is rarely noted is that there is no resolution with Nicodemus through this one encounter and conversation. Jesus does not invite him to utter a “sinner’s prayer.” But that is not the end of Nicodemus. Lo and behold, he appears again in Johns’ account – in chapters 7 and 19. Does anyone doubt the authenticity of his being a follower of Christ?

We see the same open-endedness with the woman Jesus met at the well (John 4). We cannot detect where she has moved from death to life, but we can see the infant stages of her own metamorphosis – where a new mind-set is starting to develop with her by her question: “Could this be the Messiah?”

In our day to day ministry at Java Journey, we have seen and are seeing this happen in people’s lives. The opportunities at Java Journey are unlike any I’ve had since we began concentrating our lives on service and obedience to Christ. The day to day spontaneous engagement has so much more continuity than the week to week planned event format of the past. The “go” and the “send” emphasis in Jesus’ mandates seem to have more application with the former, rather than the latter.

Without naming names, I have seen folks who were more into Buddhism and Islam, have their mind-set change from considering Jesus as Messiah, to full-fledged commitment to Him and his teachings. There was never an urging or an event or point in time that we could mark as the moment each became whole-hearted followers, but they are indeed. I have also heard from the mouths of those living lives that run contrary to biblical standards (like the woman at the well or the tax collector praying in the temple), emphasizing their need and dependence on the mercy of God through Jesus Christ.

This has become a major lesson to us in how we go about ministry and “Kingdom opportunities” at Java Journey. It causes us to never write anyone off based on a belief or lifestyle that runs contrary to the teachings and principles of God’s truth. The woman at the well benefited from such an approach. , A man named Dionysius and woman named Damaris, both took interest in Paul’s convictions and became followers at Mar’s Hill (Acts 17). This lesson also causes us to look at every conversation as a potential opportunity toward service and obedience in Christ. Being in the day-to-day world (as opposed to being cooped up in an office/study or building preparing for a handful of events), the potential increases dramatically with every encounter.