Three Power Plays of Jesus: Approach

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We are finally entering a comfortable space in Christian circles where its okay to talk about power. More importantly, we are timidly moving toward a place where its okay to talk about power abuses. A local church in our city recently featured an entire morning service on addressing spiritual abuse. The conversation is growing online, and growing more transparent, authentic, and honest.

This is good, because missionaries have a regrettably long history of power abuses, and propagating a gospel based on spiritual abuse. From slavery to the prosperity gospel, we’ve done some heavy damage.

As disciples of Jesus, we are not called to shrug off power. To do so is either an illusion or an elimination of our usefulness. As living, breathing human beings made in the image of God and redeemed by his blood through his grace, we each have an inherent sum of power. Andy Crouch is quick to remind us that power is not inherently bad; that God, through repeated acts across history (e.g., having Adam name the animals), invests power in his people – sometimes through culture (Adam), sometimes through rule (Joshua), sometimes through the miraculous (Moses), and sometimes through wealth (Solomon). In his book Culture Making, he says:

Rather than seeking to build our way up to the pinnacle of [worldly] power [like at the Tower of Babel], we can make the move God invites us to make: to see ourselves, in relationship to the world’s Creator, as in possession of more power than we could ever dream. Exodus and resurrection, the most dramatic interventions in history, both declare that there is a grace-filled power loose in the world that far out-strips our greatest human ambitions and that can quiet our deepest human fears.

Culture-making becomes not just the product of clever cultural strategy or the natural byproduct of inherited privilege, but the astonished and grateful response of people who have been rescued from the worst that culture and nature can do.

To participate in the explicit will of God through our ambassadorship for his Kingdom, we are requested by Majesty to invest our power in ways that herald the advent of a New Way. Here are three ways Jesus invites us to use our power (and this is just the tip of the iceberg):

Humility

Luke 10 has become the poster-child for “Jesus’ mission strategy.” If you’re familiar with it, you’ve probably referred to it as the “People of Peace” model. At a recent training, Mike Breen intoned his involvement in bringing this model to the forefront of missional thinkers in the 1980’s. Since then, most of today’s most popular missional leaders lean on this model (full disclosure: I am a huge fan of this model, and the mission organization I work for also uses it to some degree). It’s a great model, and it highlights an important point about power.

The chapter opens with the catalyzing challenge to both pray for “more workers” and to “Go… as sheep among wolves” (vv. 2-3), and quickly transitions into the nuts and bolts of the model (vv. 4-12). After what some see as a deviation into a venting fest for Jesus (vv. 13-16), the seventy-two missionaries return, full of the thrill of the mission of God (vv. 17-19) and Jesus launches into his response to their ministry perspective and God’s involvement in it all (vv. 20-24). From there, he moves back to pulpit territory with The Good Samaritan (vv. 25-37), and wraps it up with a sibling squabble (vv. 38-42).

How does this unveil Jesus’ view of power?

For many of us (and that’s not a “royal us” – I am absolutely guilty of being in this camp), what begins as conviction by the Holy Spirit and inspiration to participate in his Work quickly unravels into dense strategic debates, theological yarn-balls, and advanced degrees. This happens when we elevate verses 4-12 at the neglect of the rest. We begin to apply our allotted power to the strategy at the cost of other realities.

In verse 2, Jesus predicates his missional model on prayer; later in verse 20 he gently rebukes the natural excitement of miracles by reminding the disciples of the greatest miracle: that their (our) names are written in the Book of Life. Then comes The Good Samaritan and the bit about Mary & Martha.

The Good Samaritan

While the majority of the teaching on the Good Samaritan focuses on service, the most poignant message as it relates to mission has to do with whom we are to identify with in the story. Often, we’re told to be the good samaritan – but I don’t think this fully captures Jesus’ intent. Jesus himself if the only Good Samaritan – who came to our helpless state and did for us what we could not do for ourselves. So who, then, are we? In the manuscript I write:

 

Who we are – the bandits causing pain for personal gain (Thieves), the religious elite who can’t be “contaminated” by the world (Priests), the ‘Christian-for-life’ who takes their false security for granted and ignores those in need (Levites) – is not who we are in Christ. Each of us, without Christ, are indeed somewhere on the spectrum. But in the cross Jesus says, “Go and do likewise”: caring for the distraught, mending the broken, interrupting our lives with acts of compassion – this is who we are because of the life of Christ in us!

I don’t think any one of us particularly wants to be the Thief, Priest, or Levites. Yet, the implications of what Jesus is saying is perhaps even more dire: we are the one beaten and left for dead. We are the ones without hope and in need of rescue! Any power we think we have must be rooted in the posture that acknowledges that all of it – our very breath – comes from Jesus each moment of every day. To believe we can emulate the strategy of Luke 10:4-12 without the humility of Luke 10:25-37 is to inherently miss the point and misuse our spiritual power – it is to become spiritual abusers (albeit, well intentioned abusers).

This alternate message of Luke 10 is further anchored by the story of Mary & Martha.

Mary & Martha

When we lean into the strategic side of Luke 10 more than the humbling side, we often end up as “Marthas”: too busy with the mission of God to listen to the words of God. While we labor with good intent, Jesus softly rebukes us: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

“Jesus Missions Strategy” is bookended by a call to prayer and a reminder of our role. In a chapter of forty-two verses, nine are dedicated to the strategy and thirty-three are dedicated to reminding us of the centrality of humility to it’s application. While Jesus says, “Go,” he says, “Go as a dead man saved by the kindness of someone who owed you nothing.” While Jesus says, “Serve,” he says, “Serve from a posture of rest: abiding in my presence and listening to my words.”

While the strategy of Luke 10 could intone that Kingdom breakthrough happens by following the model, the humility of Luke 10 explicitly demonstrates that Kingdom breakthrough happens only by the kindness of Jesus to and through his people when we are gathered in humble posture around him.

Jesus makes it clear: Kingdom power is not coerced from the outside in, but is multiplied as it is humbly modeled from the inside out. The mission of God is not accomplished through illustrious strategy – even biblical strategy. It is accomplished through the humble heart postured before the King of Glory, hanging on his every word.

In this posture, we are not alone. The position of humility before Jesus is not an isolated existence: it is the very premise of the gathered Church; it is the origin of family. Read Part 2.

K Livingston
K Livingston
I believe in dreaming big, working hard, cheering loud, standing tall, bowing deep. All of it because I believe Jesus = life.
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