Pentecost* is one of the great feasts of the church. It celebrates the coming down of Holy Spirit on the first disciples. As a result, it sets the beginning of that great family of Christ we call the church.
Acts 2:1-21 describes the events of Pentecost. In this story the disciples are gathered together for a yearly Jewish agricultural feast. By this time in Jewish history, they had long been dispersed across the known world. Even so, those in the diaspora continued to return to Jerusalem for the feast days.
On this Pentecost, something profound happened. The room shook and there was the sound of wind. The disciples found they had tongues of fire on their heads, and they could suddenly speak other languages. They cascaded out of the upper room, proclaiming with boldness the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The lead apostle, Peter, explains what is going on. This event indeed marks the beginning the fulfillment of all that the Scriptures had pointed to. God’s Holy Spirit would be poured out for everyone.
Join us around the virtual table this week as we talk about Pentecost and the work of the Holy Spirit, the expansiveness of the mission of Christ, and what it means to live in the breath of God.
Christians celebrate Ascension Day every year exactly 40 days after Easter, to echo the 40 days that Jesus stayed with his disciples after the Resurrection. During this time, he met with them, taught them, and opened their hearts to understand the Scriptures. Finally, the disciples witness him lifted up out of their sight as he returns to God.
Even though this feast doesn’t get as much attention as Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, it is crucial to how we understand Jesus’ ministry of salvation. It is also the catalyst for the arrival of the Holy Spirit ten days later.
The Ascension marks the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, launching the church to take up the Jesus movement. Join us around the virtual table as we explore the joy-filled Ascension Day.
Discipleship is such a churchy word. Why should we bother with it? Before I tell you why I think it is important, I want to tell you why I became a priest. This story contains what I love about discipleship.
Once upon a time, I was going to be an academic. I know that won’t surprise anyone who knows me, but the reason was that I loved the big questions of life: Who am I? What is my purpose? What does it mean to be a good person? I was in a graduate program in philosophy. My goal was to be a teacher, but for me this was less about sharing knowledge and more about being a life coach. I was after the concept of THE GOOD LIFE, a life lived well. Often the culture will give us a vision of the good life as sipping champagne, driving our Porsche, and not having to work.
But studying philosophy challenged that for me. I found that what we often call the good life is really the pleasant life. Beneath the glittering surface, it is the shallow life. Once one starts to look deeper, one finds that being so self-centered is really destructive. Philosophy’s answer is that if you want to get to your deathbed with no regrets, you need virtues and values such as responsibility and purpose; tempering the appetites; having a mission in the world, and so on. I got such joy out of pursuing these virtues that I wanted to share the good news of a life lived well. Then I met Jesus, and he changed everything. Well, sort of changed everything.
In Search of a Jesus-Shaped Good Life
My excitement and vision were still the same. I still wanted to encourage people to live deeper life, and to build their lives around higher virtues and values. But now all these virtues and values were Jesus-shaped. When I read the Gospels, I found that Jesus was doing this with the people that came to him. They heard his teachings and were profoundly impacted. As they stayed to hear more, they also started to observe how he lived, how he treated other people, how he prayed to God. They became his students, not in the sense of enrolling in a class, but in learning and imitating. They became students of wisdom and life. The fancy word for student is disciple.
When I put my first love of philosophy with my greater love of Jesus, I found that something providential happened. Jesus leads us into the true GOOD LIFE. It is also a life well-lived, but centered now on God and God’s plan for our lives. It is powered not by willpower, but by grace, and ends in a heart of love.
This means different things to different people. But when I think of it, I often remember one of the funerals that impacted me the most. It was for a woman whom I had not met. When I started at my first parish as a new priest, she had already been sick with extreme dementia for quite some time. But I got to know her husband well. When she finally died, I led the funeral.
When her four children got up and spoke about their mom, it was the most moving testimony about a human being that I have ever heard. She had not lived publicly in the limelight. Instead, she focused on her family and volunteer work. But the love and grace she had given to her family and friends was remarkable. As I sat there, I remember thinking that if my children spoke like that about me when I died, then I would have lived well. I would have led a good life. So I prayed to God that I would be the person my children could speak about like that.
Becoming that person is not quick or easy. It is made up of small decisions and actions over the course of years, and the process is what we call discipleship. My invitation to you is also to strive to be the person that God has made you to be. Be a disciple.
We have just finished a series on prayer; now, I would like to reflect on how our prayer life ‘spills out’ into our everyday lives. While prayer is always present in the Christian life, God is also calling us outward into the world to point people to the Kingdom of God.
This may sound like I am talking about evangelism. I am not, or at least not like we often imagine it. Michael Frost has written a splendid little book that is really helpful on this issue: Surprise the World. Frost is a missiologist from Australia and is one of the leading voices in helping churches understand their missional context. I am going to spend the next several reflections going through the main ideas in this book.
Being an Evangelist and/or Being Missional
The first issue he deals with is this question of evangelism and who is comfortable doing it. He knows that there are many evangelists who believe that everyone should be an evangelist. But he points out that “certainly the vast majority of Christians I know don’t feel much like evangelists.” He says that, contrary to popular myths, not everyone is called to this ministry, although some are. He goes on to say that if people ask about our faith, we should be prepared to answer. But most people are not comfortable intentionally striking up a faith conversation, and that is okay. That may not be your calling. And yet… to be missional is to point people to the Kingdom of God. How does that work?
This is what he says: “Evangelistic mission works effectively when we are living generous, hospitable, Spirit-led, Christlike lives as missionaries to our own neighbourhoods – and when the gifted evangelists in our midst join us in sharing Christ with our neighbours.” For most us, the mission comes when we lead ‘surprising—and even questionable—lives.’ When I first read that, I did a double take because, for me, questionable means doing something that most people would disapprove of! Instead, he means that our lives should move others to ask why we live that way. The fact of the matter is that living a ‘fine, upstanding, middle-class lifestyle in the suburbs’ isn’t going to raise a lot of questions. It is just ‘normal.’
Surprise the World by Leading “Questionable Lives”
Frost considers the story of the rise of Christianity in the ancient Roman Empire. It is surprising that the faith should have grown at all because the Roman Emperors violently persecuted the early Christians. They expected that they could suppress the church so much that it would evaporate over time. Instead, they were shocked to find that it was growing by leaps and bounds. Many factors were responsible for this growth, but one of the key reasons was that Christians led ‘questionable lives.’
In the ancient pagan world, there was no concept of the dignity of every human being. The Emperors were quite content to have people starve and live in abject poverty. There was no charity as we understand it today. If the Emperor gave bread to the masses, it was to buy their support.
In this difficult environment, the Christians relentlessly out-loved the Empire. They fed the poor and invited them to their tables. They buried the dead whom others had left to rot. Christians took care of the sick when no one else would. When their neighbours saw that kind of love, they started to ask questions, converting by the thousands. The love of Jesus lived out was evangelistic because it pointed to the Kingdom of God.
Develop “Missional Habits”
Even though we inhabit a different time and place, Frost believes we can learn the same basic truth: we need to develop ‘Missional Habits’. These form the acronym B.E.L.L.S. (Blessothers, Eat together, Listen to the Spirit, Learn Christ, understand yourselves as Sent by God into others’ lives), and they are a simple way to live out the Gospel in our everyday lives. In this way, we can live in a way that raises good ‘questions’ from those around us. We will look at each of these habits over the next five reflections.
Questions for Further Reflection
When you hear the words “evangelism” and “mission”, what comes to mind?
Have you known someone who leads a surprising, ‘questionable life’? How did they live that made you take notice?
How have you received and shown the love of Jesus?
(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. We encourage you to support your local independent bookstore.)
This week, we’re looking at Exodus 3:1-15, when God calls Moses from a bush that is burning but not being consumed. This is a foundational incident in the unfolding story of God’s work of redemption. Thanks to our special guest this week, Tim Chesterton.
Join the conversation! Please leave your thoughts and reflections in the comments.
Did we miss the rest of the Lessons of the 20th Century Series? Not at all! Now that your hosts are back from vacation, we will be running both series together for some variety. You can use the categories to help you navigate between them.
Our desire here at the Hope Canteen is to serve up spiritual nourishment to help you grow in your life of faith. Our spiritual life is about answering the big questions and finding ways to live with integrity in light of them. As Christians, we believe that we have found those answers in Jesus Christ. But faith is only the beginning of our journey! Jesus calls us to follow him and be disciples.
Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
– Jesus, quoted in Matthew 6:33
One of the questions that people sometimes ask is ‘what do I need to do to be a good Christian?’ I appreciate that this question is usually asked by people who want to take their faith seriously, but don’t know what that looks like. I also appreciate that they are coming to me to help them in their Christian journey. The only problem is that this is the wrong question. Before I get to my answer, let me reflect for a moment why this is the wrong question.
1. God and My Laundry List
There are two problems with this question. First, it assumes that Christianity is a list of things that you can do, and that once you do them you are a good Christian. But that is not the case at all. In Matthew 19, when a rich young man asks Jesus a similar question, Jesus tells him to sell everything he has and give the money to the poor! There is no end of actions you can perform to try and be a good Christian.