Bring the Flavor!
This probably isn't a question you've ever thought about, but is life in Oakland more like Babylon or Samaria?
(Yeah, I'm still sure you've never thought about that. But it's not your fault, I'm the one asking weird questions!)
Babylon and Samaria were two parts of the world that played a key role in the story of God's people.
Babylon was the global superpower that Yahweh used to judge the nation of Israel. God's people were conquered, taken from their homeland, and put through a systematic process that was meant to erase their cultural and religious memory.
Samaria was right next door to Israel, and the Samaritans were the children of the Israelites who intermarried, and mixed their religious beliefs with their pagan neighbors, while the rest of the family was struggling in Babylon.
Babylon was the place of exile. A foreign land where you were under pressure to forget everything about Yahweh.
Samaria was the place of compromise. The place right next door where the memory of Yahweh is faint, but distorted.
So is Oakland more like Babylon or Samaria?
To me, Babylon seems like the situation for Christians in North Korea or Iran.
The situation in Oakland feels more like Samaria.
In Oakland, you can bring up Jesus, God, Christianity, church - and most people have an idea of what you're talking about. But a lot of those conversations reveal that it's a faint and often distorted understanding of the real thing.
So the question that Jesus followers in Oakland have to ask is: what will alert people to the reality of Jesus and his Way? What would surprise the world and invite questions?
I take comfort in knowing that this isn’t the first time in the history of the church when Jesus' followers were the cultural minority. This whole thing actually started as a minority movement. So what can the first Christians teach us about following Jesus in this cultural moment?
It wasn't long before our minority movement gained a head of steam, and got the attention of Julian, the Roman Emperor. Check out how he describes these first Christians to his officials...
We must pay special attention to this point, and by this means effect a cure. For when it came about that the poor were neglected and overlooked by [our] priests, then I think the impious Galileans observed this fact and devoted themselves to philanthropy … the Galileans begin with their so-called love-feast, or hospitality, or service of tables – for they have many ways of carrying it out and hence call it by many names – and the result is that they have led very many into atheism [Christianity].
How does Emperor Julian feel about the Christian movement?
It's a disease in need of a cure.
The "impious Galileans" are doing good work, but their motives are suspect.
We're losing people to this group of atheists!
Atheists? Doesn't that mean they don't believe in the existence of the Divine?
According to Roman standards - yes.
The Romans had a pantheon of gods and goddesses, but the Christians said, "Jesus is Lord."
What they meant was, "Jesus ALONE is Lord, and NO OTHER."
And in Roman eyes, this amounted to atheism.
Here's what the Emperor recommended for dealing with these generous atheists...
Why do we not observe that it is their benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead and the pretended holiness of their lives that they have done most to increase atheism? I believe that we ought really and truly to practice every one of their virtues … For it is disgraceful that when … the impious Galileans support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.
Emperor Julian (AD 331-363)
What is the reputation of these “impious Galileans”?
When was the last time you heard a Christian accused of being too inclusive?
"Can you guys knock it off with all that virtue? You're making us look bad!"
What a reputation!
The Emperor suspects their motives, but I'm so inspired!
If you're going to be slandered, why not be slandered for caring too much?
Jesus' disciple Peter called the first Christians to a high standard:
1 Peter 3:15-16
But in your hearts revere Messiah as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
In my experience and in our movement's history, Christians have given the watching world plenty of good reasons to slander them.
But what if the worst thing you could say about us was that we were too generous, too caring, too inclusive?
This is so convicting.
Peter's words spark another question...
Every Christian needs to be prepared to give an answer, but does this mean that all Christians called to be an Evangelist? I've heard this passage quoted with a challenge to "get out there and share your faith!"
Is that what Peter meant?
"Evangelist" is a term borrowed from the Greco-Roman world.
When Caesar's armies won some great battle that expanded the power and wealth of Rome, this was "gospel" or "good news" for the empire.
Rome had Evangelists who shared Rome's gospel with the people - this was news that changed everything once you heard it.
But not everyone in Roman society was an Evangelist for Rome.
Everyone had their part to play, and only some played the part of Evangelist.
Most Christians I know get cold sweats if they're asked to be an evangelist.
But many of us have been told that we are all evangelists, and we receive a guilt-trip to “step into our calling.”
And I don’t know that this is fair or true.
The Apostle Paul was probably the greatest evangelist the world has ever known, and I think that he would tell us that "NO – not everyone is an evangelist." But, he also DOESN’T mean that the rest of us are off the hook.
Here's what I hear him saying about that...
1) Paul affirms the Evangelist as a GIFT from God.
So Christ himself gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers...
When you hear that "some" are evangelists, that means that not "all" are evangelists.
And check this out - God didn’t give the gift of evangel-ISM, but instead the evangelist herself/himself IS a gift from God! When someone is expressing their God-given gift, it's not that they HAVE the gift, they ARE that gift for others.
A friend of mine pointed out to me that we often think of Evangelists as people who share good news with "those people out there." But Andrea said that as a believer, she needs to be evangelized too! She needs someone reminding her that there's good news and a bigger Story then the smaller and depressing stories that dominate our thoughts and news feeds.
The church needs to be evangelized too, because we all need good news.
So in summary...
Not everyone IS the gift of the Evangelist.
But that doesn't mean the rest of us have no part to play!
2) Paul calls all believers to live EVANGELISTICALLY – in a way that alerts people to the reality of Jesus and his Way in the world.
Be devoted to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us too, that God may open a door for the message so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may make it known as I should. Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone.
The roles of the Evangelist and the evangelistic believers are interwoven in this passage, so we have to separate the different strands...
Who and What does Paul ask the church to pray for?
Paul says, "pray for us."
Paul and the others included in that "us" are the Evangelists.
There is a closed door, with people on the other side of that door who need to hear good news.
Paul is asking the church to pray for the door to be opened.
There is a mystery to be unveiled, and Paul is asking the church to pray that he would have clarity as he reveals what has been unknown to people concerning Jesus.
What kind of life does Paul call the church to live among outsiders?
We should be praying for the Evangelists.
Our lives should be marked by thankfulness.
We should have a reputation for wisdom.
We live with intentionality.
Our words should be gracious - seasoned with salt.
So here's Paul's two-fold approach for sharing the Good News of Jesus...
You have your Gifted Evangelists and your Evangelistic Believers.
Evangelists need to be clear in what they share with others, and alert to opportunities and open doors.
Believers pray for the Evangelists. They live among outsiders with wisdom and intentionality.
Evangelists are bold.
Believers are gracious.
The church community should be a place where the gifted Evangelists are identified, equipped, mobilized, and prayed for as they take a leadership responsibility for the church's evangelism.
And the rest of us are called to live "questionable" lives.
Notice, Paul says "be ready to give an answer."
That implies that people are asking us questions.
But what if no one is asking?
Christians have been guilty of answering questions that no one was asking, and speaking when they should be listening. (I know I have!)
But what if no one is asking me?
What if I'm not living a life that invites questions?
Do my life priorities and rhythms provoke curiosity?
Let's bring this to a close...
You know what would invite some questions and curiosity?
(Probably not what you thought I was going to say.)
But yes, salt.
Paul says that our words (and our lives?) should be "seasoned with salt."
But what in the world does that mean?
Paul is Jewish, and he's drawing an image from Leviticus 2 - where sacrificial offerings were to be seasoned with salt.
Leviticus 2 sounds like an ancient cooking show, where the chef is reminding you to bring out the best tastes and aromas and flavors, because we bring God our best, and that means flavor!
Jesus' followers should bring the flavor wherever they go, because the world needs salt.
It needs a lot more grace from gracious people.
So many of our day-to-day interactions are so lacking in grace.
Twitter-shame and angry Facebook rants.
Friends who go out to eat, and spend the whole time looking at their phones.
Checkout clerks who are treated as a means to an end.
You know what would make a world of difference?
If Jesus followers saw those mundane, day-to-day interactions as an opportunity to bring the flavor!
Do you want to alert people to the reality of Jesus and his Way? Do you want to live a life that surprises the world and invites questions?
Start by sprinkling salt in your everyday interactions.
What is one ordinary task or encounter that you'll have today, where you can completely change the atmosphere by noticing someone, asking about their life, and leaving them better off than when you first met them?
Salt is the smallest thing that makes a world of difference.
Things taste better, and it makes you thirsty for more.
In a world that is sorely lacking in grace, salty people will really stand out.
So today, bring the flavor!
(If you like what you're reading, I gained a lot of inspiration from Michael Frost's short and helpful book, "Surprise the World!")