Someone asked me the other day what I thought it looked like to “live missionally”…a very good question.
There is an amazing metaphor in the ancient songs of the people of God that sheds light on the tensions of living in this world today!
Psalm 137 starts with the verse:
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?
This Psalm obviously recounts the time when Israel was conquered by the Babylonians and many were taken into their land as slaves, to live as exiles. Not only is this supported in historical records but you can also read about it in the book of Jeremiah.
The Psalm sets the tone of a people remembering their homeland (Zion). The picture is vivid if we imagine it. A people that are kept in a land not their own, wishing for Zion and weeping by the river that flows through their land of Exile. The river, ironically, is a combination of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers that was also known as the river of salt. The irony stems from the fact that the Euphrates and Tigris rivers were two of the rivers mentioned in Genesis that flowed from Eden, the place where God had perfect relationship with his creation. When that perfect creation was corrupted by sin, man was exiled from Eden never to return again. Many years later, Israel finds itself on the banks of these waters weeping to return to promise of their Jerusalem and the temple that held the presence of God in their community. While they were weeping for their man-made city of Jerusalem, what they were really weeping for was the headwaters of the river they sat beside…Eden.
Still, God via Jeremiah tells his people to settle down, marry, have children, and be a blessing to the capture nation. In Jeremiah 29, he basically tells them to wait on him and his timing for deliverance.
Today, metaphorically, we all live as exiles in a culture that doesn’t feel like home. Sometimes we find ourselves weeping and in tension because we know that something just isn’t right…we know “this place is not our home” (as Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman puts it). The words of Jeremiah to God’s people then are perhaps good for us today. God, in his own timing will restore this world and his creation. Our job, as we wait, is to live within this culture as a blessing and an example of what it looks like to be the people of God. To show a culture void of following Jesus what it looks like to follow him.
Many in the church would see our primary job as Christ-followers as fighting our way back to a forced moral value. I choose to see our current cultural issues as an opportunity to magnify the differences in living a life as a Jesus person.
Missional living is a dance, and is an art at times. This is where a person can live within the calling of their Rabbi (Jesus), but still engage the culture in conversation and blessing. This is what Jesus did with his disciples, as I read it. He didn’t fight the obvious injustices of the world politically or physically, but lived as an example of what justice and holiness should look like in the messiness of engaging other people.
Most churches today don’t teach these dance moves, this art. They shoot propositional beliefs from the stage and then send people out to fend for themselves. Most of the time, people react the only way they know how and have been taught…they shoot propositional beliefs at people in the culture they encounter. I really can’t blame them, as that is what their own rabbi (pastors) have taught them to do.
My hope, dream, and calling is to see if their is way to help people within the church to encounter a paradigm shift and see themselves as missionaries, in a sense. To see the freedom of just living for Jesus, but with a world that doesn’t follow him, and to do it without fear and anger. My own way of helping this paradigm shift is to launch a recent Forge America Hub here in Colorado Springs (www.ForgeCOS.com) where leaders and Christ-followers can engage a conversation together as we sit at the banks of the culture river. My hope is to curate light-bulb moments, where Jesus people regain their missional balance, where they learn to dance and learn to create art in the messiness of life.
As we all weep at times for another place, a place yet to come, that looks very much like the world where the Euphrates and Tigris rivers flowed out of, may we also remember that we have a God who is on mission already and invites us to join him in that mission. But we must not cry for a more moral man-made city, our own Jerusalem. No, our tears must be for heaven itself and the time when Jesus makes all things new again (Isa. 65:17, Rev. 21:5).