“Lord, I can’t do that!”
I love Peter, the un-Apostle, and that most endearing/maddening trait of his, speaking first and thinking about the consequences later (not unlike this blogger…)–even if it was God he was talking to. In Acts 10, after God sent him the vision of the net holding all kinds of repugnant creepy-crawlies (at least to an observant Jew’s mind…) and then told him to kill and eat, Peter’s shock and horror couldn’t have been more clear. God’s dream, as blunt as a bulldozer, arrived to indelicately demolish the walls of Peter’s presumption of what the Church should look like and who the good news of Jesus was really meant for.
His knee-jerk repulsion is instructive to me: 1) Peter had an intimate enough relationship with God to dare to be so blunt in his response to the vision (this is good!) and 2) his view of God’s mission was too small and comfortable (not so good…).
Dave Gibbons, pastor of Newsong Church in Irvine, CA and author of The Monkey and the Fish, prophetically argues that Peter’s earthmoving vision paints the center line of our path as followers of Jesus on His mission of rescue to broken down people in a busted up world. He calls it “the theology of discomfort” modeled by Jesus Christ himself: “his birth amid poverty, in a bed of straw, into a hostile world–to the end–his death, by the Via Dolorosa, full of shame, sacrifice, humility, pain, betrayal, and rejection.”
Gibbons argues that Peter (and you and I) mistakenly assume that the Church is designed to grow by carefully guarded boundaries which gather people who are homogenous–they look alike, act alike and attract people just like them. But Peter’s vision in Acts 10 strongly suggests that God thinks differently, and the rainbow of created humanity trumpets this uncomfortable truth. He calls us as His Church into the heart of the colorful babble and beauty of clashing cultures, languages and traditions to live out the good news of Jesus there–especially with those who are forgotten, judged, discriminated against and beaten down. Gibbons continues,
Here’s the reality: if we really want to see our churches grow in the way Jesus would want us to grow, if we really want to see Christ revealed in our communities and through our lives and in this global world of ours, then we must focus our strategic initiatives of love on people who make us feel uncomfortable, who don’t fit into our thinking and our conventions, who are marginalized and even considered misfits and outsiders. Individual churches might not grow as quickly, but I believe with all of my heart that the Church would be more enduring and virile and robust and alive than ever. We would meet Jesus in more compelling ways than ever before. We would reflect the true nature and character of Jesus. [The Monkey and the Fish, p. 78-79]
And what’s truly exciting to me is that we at Blanchard Alliance Church don’t have to go far to experience this global reality. Twenty years ago, it would have been almost unfair to suggest this view as normative of life in DuPage County. But no more. By 2010, the majority of all children born in this county will be non-Caucasian and, just ten years further on in 2020, the majority of the general population here will be non-Caucasian as well.
So what does this all mean for Blanchard Alliance Church?
Well, I see encouraging signs all over the place–painted lines on the path toward things yet to come, people from all walks of life at both Blanchard Wheaton and Warrenville, serving our neighbors and building bridges:
- at Lincoln Elementary School and Johnson Elementary School through tutoring (at school and in-home)
- through support and recovery groups — people helping one another, through God’s grace and truth, find help and healing for their addictions and pain
- at a whole mess of housing developments all over the county (Parkside in Glen Ellyn, Roosevelt Rd. and Wheaton Square in Wheaton and Summerlakes, Country Ridge and Winchester in Warrenville).
- by welcoming a Ukrainian congregation to share our building at Wheaton
- by encouraging a Latino congregation to move forward in their discussion to share space with us in Warrenville
- by resourcing the neediest families in District 200 through Christmas Sharing
- by equipping parents through free computer classes at Blanchard Warrenville
- by loving the homeless (giving them a bed, a warm meal and a worship service)
- by caring for, housing and guiding refugees finding a new life in America
- Three Blanchard men at I Have a Bean Coffee giving their time, resources and love to equip ex-offenders as coffee roasters, providing gainful employment in the critical transition back to everyday life after prison. Check their website out for yourself to learn more: ihaveabean.com
This list is a lot bigger and growing. So is the list of people from around the world right here in our neighborhoods waiting to see the story of Jesus in action through us. So how is “the theology of discomfort” at work in you?
We see the net You’ve cast, God. We understand Your vision. By Your Holy Spirit may we keep declaring, “Lord, we can do that!”
Make us uncomfortable as we fulfill Your mission and grow Your Church.
[ASSIGNMENT: What do you know about Blanchard’s people on God’s uncomfortable mission that you could add to my list? Share the story as a comment to this blog and help our list to grow!]