Pastor’s Post #21: “JOY FOR THE WORLD!” (06/10/’17)
As we witness our culture in free-fall, we should be encouraged that this is a time of great opportunity for the Christian Church:
- As the Roman Empire began its decline in the first century of our era, the risen and reigning King Jesus began turning the world upside down (actually, right-side up!) through the vibrant witness of Christian disciples.
- When the Western world was in the deep darkness of religious superstition and gross ignorance, God brought a Reformation of true Christianity under the leadership of men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and so many others who were zealous for the biblical Gospel.
- In 18th century England and America, God brought revival through preachers who passionately and selflessly preached “as dying men to dying men.” These nations were remarkably transformed by the power of God’s grace.
- And in the 20th century, as the youth rebellion of the 1960s began to disintegrate, the Lord of Heaven worked to draw many counter-culture kids to the true counter-culture of the Kingdom of God. (I was thankful to be among that number!)
So, given that repeated pattern of God’s work in the world (and I have only given you a very few of many, many examples), I want to encourage you not to be discouraged –as so many Christians are. Light shines brightest in the darkness. Christ the King is with us (and He reigns!) in every generation. And God’s grace really is greater than all of our sin.
But I want to suggest to you that the ways of bringing the good news of Jesus Christ that we used in a previous generation (that was more or less informed by Christianity) may not be the best for reaching this generation – a generation that, in many cases, knows little or nothing of the Word of God, or has become jaded by the false, foolish, and all-too-often scandalous examples of so-called “Christianity” which get circulated ad nauseum on the internet and social media.
I think it’s helpful to see our modern culture in the United States as a vast collection of foreign mission fields. And as people in areas that are strangers to Christ and the Gospel need to be exposed to both the Word of God and the ways of God, so the people of our culture (a culture that is far more oriented to images than to words) need to be exposed to the Kingdom of God as it’s demonstrated in the Kingdoms of this world. If you will, those around you need to see the things of Heaven as a powerful witness to those who are walking, step by step, to Hell.
Here’s what I mean:
- The Fruit of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – are what the Bible calls a down-payment of what Christians will receive in full in the New Heavens and the New Earth. But those around us can see these things in us NOW – especially as we go through the many painful trials of this life. Christian: You are meant to be a little picture of heavenly life on earth!
- True Christians –those in whom Jesus Christ Himself dwells by the Holy Spirit – are a fragrance of Christ in a world that – quite frankly – stinks with the foul odors of sin and misery.
- Christ-motivated self-giving love that shows in the hugs, kisses, and kind works of mercy and charity are a marked contrast to the self-absorbed and dominating works of lust in a culture that has replaced sanctified human relations with sleazy human relations.
- Christian fellowship – eating, drinking, laughing, enjoying life together in Christ – is meant to be a blessed foretaste of our fellowship with Christ and with one another in the world to come. This is totally different than the social interaction of those who simply enjoy one more party and one more meal before their inevitable day of death.
- And in a world with so much speech that is simply foolishness, how refreshing it’s meant to be to hear the Word of God with its sure promises of hope, grace, mercy, love, and help.
Or, to make it rather simple, the JOY that Jesus brings into the world and now puts on display in His people and in His Church (which is meant to be an embassy of Heaven on earth), is the great “Sign and Wonder” that should attract the world around us to the great Joy-Giving Savior.
As I was developing these ideas some months ago, I came across a recommendation for a book that – based on the review – seemed to be saying the same things that I was trying to say. I purchased the book and was utterly fascinated as I read every page. The title of the book is (appropriately!), Joy for the World, with the intriguing sub-title How Christianity Lost its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It. Its commendations were lavish. “Joy for the World… presents a picture…that inspires readers to hope and live in such a way that they transform their communities, their culture, and their world” wrote one. Here’s another: (Joy for the World) encourages us to be salt and light, explaining how Christians can make a difference and be a significant witness for Christ. This is a book is for all Christians.”
Then, when I realized that the author of Joy for the World had been discipled by a dear pastor friend of mine, Larry Wilson, I knew that I had in my hand a rich, reliable volume full of faithful teaching that would help me – and others – both show and tell the Gospel in our day.
That’s what we want to explore on today’s Visit to the Pastor’s Study.
Dr. Greg Forster is the author of Joy for the World. Dr. Forster earned his PhD with distinction in political philosophy from Yale University. He is a senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Currently he serves as Director of the Oikonomia Network at the Center for Transformational Churches – a division of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he is also a visiting professor of faith and culture. He is the author of five books (in addition to Joy for the World), and co-editor of four others. Dr. Forster has also published numerous articles in scholarly and popular periodicals, has spoken at conferences of The Gospel Coalition and other Christian groups, edits the group blog Hang Together, and contributes regularly to online outlets. His great burden is to equip churches, individual Christians and Christian families to be good citizens of both the Kingdom of God and the communities in which the Lord has put them.
Dr. Greg Forster is our guest for this program.
Dr. Forster, welcome to A Visit to the Pastor’s Study….
Yours in the King of Kings,