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Equipping followers of Christ to engage in their everyday work as the work of God, so workplaces are invigorated, communities flourish and culture is renewed to the honor and glory of the Lord.

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Friday, December 31, 2010

The Smelliest City Of Europe

As we continue our look at the transformational effects of applied Christianity on cities and countries, we would be remiss if we didn't look at the history of Geneva, Switzerland.

Dr. Lowell Bakke, a Professor at Bakke Graduate University, once told me the godlessness of the world system thrives because Christians are not “engaging ethically, morally and courageously in their spheres of influence.”

The flip-side is also true. When followers of Christ do engage ethically, morally and courageously in their spheres of influence, the godlessness of the world system does not thrive.

Consider Geneva of the 1500's.

Thomas Bloomer wrote an insightful piece about the spiritual, economic and social history of that city in Calvin and Geneva: Nation-Building Missions. It appears in the excellent book, His Kingdom Come: An Integrated Approach to Discipling the Nations and Fulfilling the Great Commission, published by YWAM Publishing.

Bloomer relates that in the early 1500's, Geneva was called the smelliest city of Europe. The walls of the city had fallen into disrepair, the people were poor, and families were falling apart.

The condition of the church was also in great disrepair. Priests operated houses of prostitution, and they were immoral themselves. The voice of the church had lost its authority. The people ran the bishop of Geneva out of town in 1530, and most of the city's nobles left with him.

Geneva was in spiritual, economic and social crisis.

William Farel, a fiery French evangelist, came to Geneva in 1531. While preaching in the marketplace from atop one of the market tables, he cried out, "We must reform the church in order to reform the nation!" Bloomer writes: "That offended the authorities so much they arrested him and then kicked him out of town."

But around that time, something significant took place in Geneva: "Businessmen [emphasis mine] whose salvation was rooted in the Reformation had migrated to the city; they began small groups to meet for study and prayer."

The city leadership was taken up by new leaders who subscribed to "the simplicity and disciplined lifestyles of the Protestant reformers," as Bloomer puts it.

On the 26th of August, 1535, the electors of the city voted unanimously, and courageously, to proclaim Geneva a Reformed Protestant city. Courageously, because in 1535, as Bloomer notes, "they were risking excommunication and eternal damnation."

The ramifications of this decision were enormous.

To be continued...

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Friday, December 24, 2010

The Greatest Christmas Gift

[This post first appeared December 25, 2009.]

One of my favorite carols is Joy To The World. The words are by Issac Watts, based on Psalm 98:

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth; make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills be joyful together before the Lord; for He cometh to judge the earth, with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.

Some people say Joy To The World is not about the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. They say it is about His second coming, not His first. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joy_to_the_World.)

The joy that is sung about, then, is a future joy that will occur when Christ returns, to “make the nations prove the glories of His righteousness,” in that full expression of His Kingdom-yet-to-come.

But for me, the song makes sense as a celebration of the first coming of Christ in Bethlehem.

While I’m looking forward to that full and perfect expression of Christ’s Kingdom-yet-to-come, I’m also celebrating the Kingdom-already-here! Jesus is Lord of all. Today! Not just in the future, but in this present moment (Acts 2:36; 10:36).

No, the Kingdom of God isn't fully recognized yet, or perfectly functional right now. This will happen when Christ comes the second time. But the domain over which Christ is King (that is, His King-domain) presently includes both Heaven and Earth!

This is the greatest Christmas gift: Christ the King has come “to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found.” Right now.

Our Savior came to make His blessings to flow through carpenters, cops and CEOs who are reconciled to God, and reconciling all things to Him, including their work things!

That's the idea behind Christ's coming in the first place. See II Cor. 5:17-20 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=II%20Cor.%205:17-20&version=NIV and Col. 1:17-20 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Col.%201:17-20&version=NIV.

So, no more let thorns infest the ground. By God's amazing grace, put your work gloves on, go to your workplace after the Christmas holiday and start pulling up bramble bushes--and planting redwood trees.

Joy to the Earth! the Savior reigns; Let men their songs employ; While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat, repeat the sounding joy!
Merry Christmas.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

The Kingdom Is Much Larger Than The Soul

If government and business leaders of a particular city or nation were to view Christianity as a catalyst for economic development, stability, and job creation, do you think it might increase the probability that Christianity would be welcomed by those leaders?

Let me pose the question differently: If civil and business leaders of a particular city or nation were to see Christianity as a personal, private affair, concerned primarily with the salvation of souls and the after-life, would this increase the probability that Christianity would not be taken seriously by those leaders?

I think so. On both counts.

I've been asking why Christianity has a positive effect on the development of some places and little effect on others. As one put it, "Why are some cities that have been Christianized and churched, like Lagos, Nigeria, still full of poverty and corruption?"

Part of the answer lies in how the terms "Christianized" and "churched" are defined.

In some places, "Christianization" has produced a withdrawal of Christians from this present world. The "Gospel" (so-called) has produced Christians with no real interest in the way business is done, or how civil affairs are managed.

Dr. Darrell Furgason observed: “In places like Africa...Western missionaries generally brought the Gospel in the way they learned it, as a purely soul-saving faith, with no real bearing on anything else—religion was a mostly personal matter, nothing to do with things like politics, science, law, economics….African people were given the Gospel, but not how to build a righteous nation, how to apply Christianity to everything."

As I heard one African educator say: "Africans have understood the Gospel of Salvation, but not the Gospel of the Kingdom."

The Gospel of Salvation points people to becoming born-again believers through faith in Christ's shed blood. Through this amazing door we enter into a personal relationship with Jesus, and this is the beginning.

But the Gospel of the Kingdom helps people understand what salvation is for. We are not just saved from something, but for something!

The Gospel of Salvation is part of the Gospel of the Kingdom, not the whole. The Kingdom is much larger than the soul.

One of the best descriptions I've heard on this topic is by Paul Stevens, author of The Other Six Days. Please watch this 2 minute, 53 second segment of an interview I did with him a few years back: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VitIItMXKc0

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Friday, December 10, 2010

A Message For The Here-And-Now

Why does Christianity have more of an effect upon some cities and countries than others?

Only God knows the full answer, but I'll venture a few possibilities.

My first thought is this: Christianity seems to have a greater effect on some individuals than on others. Doesn't it?

Why is this the case?

I suspect it might have something to do with the willingness of a particular person to undergo changes initiated by the Holy Spirit, the pull of past experiences, Christian teachings that are embraced, relationships with others, and the way a person is "wired" from the womb.

In a similar way, I suspect that the culture, character and history of a particular city or country where Christianity is "planted" affects the way it expresses itself.

In Korea, for example, Christianity was "planted" in a culture with a long history of Confucian influence. Some aspects of Confucianism were abandoned by Korean Christians (such as ancestor veneration), but I have spoken with Christians in Korea who tell me certain continuing influences of Confucianism on Christianity are negative. Yet, according to Dr. Kirsteen Kim whose research I highlighted a couple of weeks ago, other aspects of Confucianism complement Christianity, and were "revitalized" by early Korean Christians.

Confucianism, for example, has a high regard for education and scholarship. This may help explain the rise of Christian schools in Korea. "Within 25 years of their inception [in 1885]," writes Dr. Joseph Kim, a leader in today's Korean Christian school movement, "the Christian schools became the engine of social change and transformation. It is interesting to note that the Christian schools in Korea were flourishing nearly 50 years before such a movement even began in the United States." By 1910, there were 800 Christian schools serving 41,000 Korean students!

"In an environment antagonistic to Christianity [in the nineteenth century]," writes Joseph Kim, "it was the Christian schools that took the gospel to scores of young people and trained them with a biblical worldview. These schools provided the Korean church and the nation with well-trained Christian leaders." [Read Dr. Kim's full article at http://acsi.org/Resources/PublicationsNewsletters/ChristianSchoolEducation/tabid/681/itemId/3221/Default.aspx]

Another factor behind Christianity's influence on Korean modernization is that early Korean Christians saw Christianity as a message for the here-and-now, not just for the life-thereafter.

I'll pick up from here next week.

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Friday, December 3, 2010

Why Do Some Places That Have Been "Christianized and Churched" Remain Corrupt?

A friend of mine sent me the following message: "[Your blog] raises a very interesting issue. Is corruption thriving because of the godlessness of the world systems, or is it thriving because of the lack of Christians engaging ethically, morally and courageously in their spears of influence. Who has the most influence…a little sin…or a little mustard seed of faith?"

He went on to quote a Jamaican Christian leader we both know and respect who made the following observation: “What do Kingston (Jamaica), Manila (Philippines) and Lagos (Nigeria) all have in common? They are the three most Christianized and churched cities in their parts of the world and are also the three most corrupt, crime ridden cultures in their parts of the world. I am not sure we can blame corruption on those outside the faith or those with no faith at all, as much as we can blame it on 'Godless' living out of truth and morality by those who call Christ Lord.”

My friend then added this sobering remark: "A couple of years ago, three of the seven or nine finance ministers in Nigeria were brought up on corruption charges and lost their government positions. All three were evangelical pastors."

Sobering indeed.

It is easy to look at the broken-down economy of Eastern Europe and connect it with several generations of Godless ideology. It is easy to look at the poverty of India and connect it with the effects of Hinduism, or to connect the robust development of South Korea with the growth of Christianity there. But why do some places that have been "Christianized and churched" remain corrupt?

I have only been to Kenya twice, and I'm in no position to criticize that country. What I found interesting, is that Christian music is played over the public address system inside the Nairobi International Airport, and churches are ubiquitous. A friend of mine who works in Kenya tells me the government council meetings in his area open with prayer. Yet, corruption in government and business is commonplace, and poverty abounds.

Why is it that in some places that have been "Christianized and churched," we do not see the kind of effects of Christianity that occurred in India following the Wesleyan revival, or in Wenzhou, China, today?

A penny for your thoughts!

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