A Gospel for the Middle

The fol­low­ing exer­cise is from the syn­chroblog at http://frankviola.org/2012/07/09/gospelforthemiddle

Field­ing Mel­ish and his wife Feli­cia have two chil­dren, ages 10 and 6. They live in a very remote part of Maine, USA. They are sur­round­ed by extend­ed fam­i­ly, none of whom are Chris­tians. The near­est church­es are one hour away, and by all evan­gel­i­cal stan­dards, none of them are good. These church­es are either high­ly legal­is­tic, high­ly lib­er­tine, or just flat-out flaky.

One of Fielding’s cousins is a prac­tic­ing Chris­t­ian. They see each oth­er once a year. Fielding’s cousin has shared Christ with Field­ing many times over the years. When­ev­er they’ve talked about spir­i­tu­al things, Field­ing shows interest.

Feli­cia grew up in a Chris­t­ian home. She’s received Christ, but she isn’t evan­ge­lis­tic and is over­whelmed with work­ing long hours and rais­ing two small chil­dren. She would love to find a church near­by for the spir­i­tu­al sup­port and instruc­tion, but none exist.

Field­ing has no col­lege edu­ca­tion. While he is capa­ble of read­ing, he is not a read­er. He doesn’t use the Web either. He’s a man who works with his hands, both for his career and for recre­ation. He’s an “out­doors­man.” He hunts, he builds, he does man­u­al labor, etc. In his spare time, he helps his elder­ly par­ents with var­i­ous build­ing projects.

Field­ing is not an athe­ist. Nei­ther is he an agnos­tic. He believes in God. He believes Jesus is the Sav­ior of the world who died for our sins and rose again from the dead. He hasn’t ful­ly sur­ren­dered his life to Christ, but he is not sure what that looks like exact­ly. His chil­dren know a lit­tle about the Lord, most­ly because of what their moth­er has taught them.

Recent­ly Field­ing asked this question:

When I’m with my cousin once a year, I want to learn more about God. But when I come back home, and I’m around every­one else, my mind is off of God, and I am back to work­ing, rais­ing my kids, and help­ing my par­ents. Some­one needs to come up with a solu­tion for peo­ple like me … peo­ple who are in the mid­dle. (By “in the mid­dle,” Field­ing means some­one who believes in Jesus, but who isn’t ful­ly absorbed in the faith yet either. They sim­ply don’t know enough nor do they have any spir­i­tu­al sup­port sys­tem around them.)

Relo­cat­ing is not an option for Field­ing and his wife. Even if they want­ed to relo­cate, they don’t see a way they could do it financially.

Remem­ber: Field­ing and his wife don’t per­son­al­ly know any Chris­tians. None of their extend­ed fam­i­ly or cowork­ers are believ­ers either. And the near­est church­es (which are an hour away) aren’t recommended.

Ques­tion: If you were Fielding’s cousin, how would you instruct him and his wife the next time you saw them?

My answer:

Fielding’s sit­u­a­tion is pret­ty bleak, and appar­ent­ly very common.

I think the first ques­tion is “what does God want to do?” I would start pray­ing, and get­ting my broth­ers and sis­ters pray­ing, seek­ing God for His will, and ask­ing for God to reveal Him­self to Field­ing. I’ve learned that doing things my way or through my own pow­er or ideas–”putting my hand to it”–brings about death. (2 Samuel 6:6–7)

Field­ing says that he ‘believes in Jesus’, but he’s also not com­plete­ly sur­ren­dered his life to Christ. He doesn’t even know what that would look like. That belief is mere­ly a men­tal assent, not an active dis­ci­ple­ship. This makes me doubt that he’s ever real­ly encoun­tered Jesus Christ.

He says he wants to know more about God when he’s with his cousin, so he seems to be drawn to the liv­ing Word of God, Jesus Christ, that dwells in his cousin.

I believe that Word is what Field­ing needs. We can have all the ideas that we want, and try doing all kinds of things, but until the Word of God comes to him, noth­ing else real­ly mat­ters. He needs Jesus. If I were Fielding’s cousin my goal would be to show him Christ every chance I had (of course, that should be our goal for any­body and any situation).

How do we show Christ to oth­ers? We let Him live through us. And not just indi­vid­u­al­ly, but through the cor­po­rate Body of Christ! I would Field­ing and his fam­i­ly to come vis­it us. We live in com­mu­ni­ty with a church, and he would be able to see Christ liv­ing in a body of believ­ers in a real and tan­gi­ble way–“Come and see.” (John 1:38, 46). If Field­ing is tru­ly desir­ing God, the result of that time expe­ri­enc­ing God in a cor­po­rate body would be a much greater hunger on his part for God and for fel­low­ship. If he couldn’t come vis­it us, I imag­ine I would look into going there, and try tak­ing some broth­ers and sis­ters with me.

But God has to show us what to do, and how to do it. I believe that He delights in reveal­ing Jesus Christ to peo­ple, and if we will com­plete­ly give our­selves to Christ unre­served­ly and lift Him up, he’ll draw all men to Him­self. But we have to work with God, not against, or out­side, of Him.

For exam­ple, look at Acts 3, where Peter heals the lame beg­ger. How many times do you think Peter had passed that very same beg­ger before? And think about how many oth­er beg­gers and afflict­ed there were. But that man was the one who God want­ed to touch at that moment. It says in verse 4,

But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!”

Those men were always look­ing for what God was doing.

I would real­ly want to know how seri­ous Field­ing is. If he’s just ‘inter­est­ed’, I think we should be pray­ing and give God time to work with him and show him his need for God, and look­ing to see if we’re sup­posed to be part of the answer to that prayer.

If he’s seri­ous­ly long­ing for God, though, like one of those who go along weep­ing, look­ing for the Lord God and the way to Zion (Jer 50:4–5), then he needs to know that the wilder­ness is not the habi­ta­tion that he’s intend­ed for, and he doesn’t have to be alone. There is a promised land, and we’ll do every­thing we can to help him find his way, whether that means send­ing folks there, or find­ing a way through God’s pro­vi­sion for him to relo­cate. Some­times God has His peo­ple in the wilder­ness, but it is to pre­pare them for the promised land–that’s not where they’re sup­posed to stay.

Field­ing needs to have believ­ers around him. It was nev­er the intent of God to have iso­lat­ed believ­ers try­ing to sur­vive. That’s the sit­u­a­tion that he’s in right now, and it’s not bear­ing good fruit; he’s floun­der­ing, unable to total­ly give his life over to God. He needs broth­ers and sis­ters around him to encour­age and exhort him, and to demon­strate what it even looks like to live com­plete­ly giv­en to God.

I think it would be impor­tant to some­how spend more time with Field­ing, try­ing to arrange liv­ing with him or near­by for an extend­ed peri­od of time to dis­ci­ple him, and see­ing if God wants to raise up a church in his area by draw­ing any­one else. Again, this is depen­dent on how seri­ous he is. You can’t force peo­ple to fol­low God.

But if God doesn’t bless that, the truth is that unless he gets some type of com­mu­ni­ty around him, he’ll most like­ly not sur­vive spir­i­tu­al­ly.  Either some­body needs to locate to where he is, or he needs to relo­cate. Hav­ing oth­er folks become believ­ers in the area would be won­der­ful and nec­es­sary, but if Field­ing is him­self a new believ­er, and oth­er new believ­ers join with him, then it seems nec­es­sary that they have some­one mature to come along­side them to help.

Field­ing sees his sit­u­a­tion as impos­si­ble. But that’s real­ly just a nat­ur­al per­spec­tive. In a spir­i­tu­al view­point, noth­ing is impos­si­ble. If you had asked any of those Jews before they heard Peter’s first mes­sage in Acts 2 what they thought about relo­cat­ing to Jerusalem and liv­ing with a bunch of peo­ple that they either had nev­er met or didn’t know well indef­i­nite­ly, they would have thought that was sim­ply ludi­crous. It wasn’t even an option or pos­si­bil­i­ty to them; there wasn’t even a rea­son to think about it. But when they encoun­tered the Word of God, through Peter, it com­plete­ly changed everything.

Noth­ing is more impor­tant than find­ing and being with God and par­tak­ing in the fel­low­ship of Christ in his Body, includ­ing jobs, hous­es, pos­ses­sions, and even fam­i­ly. It’s why the Church lived the way they did in Acts–they found some­thing which eclipsed every­thing else. *That’s* what Field­ing needs; to expe­ri­ence Christ in that way. The rev­e­la­tion of Christ puts every­thing in a com­plete­ly new (and it’s prop­er) perspective.

The rev­e­la­tion of Christ and His Body destroys indi­vid­ual living.

1 comment

  1. The rev­e­la­tion of Christ and His Body destroys indi­vid­ual liv­ing. …And yet, it para­dox­i­cal­ly enhances and brings out one’s own (actu­al) indi­vid­u­al­i­ty. Once one finds their place in the body of believ­ers, they are able to dis­cov­er what their unique func­tion in that body is and begin to oper­ate in line with this pur­pose. Liv­ing indi­vid­u­al­ly may not com­plete­ly nul­li­fy one’s abil­i­ty to walk in one’s gift­ings, but hav­ing to essen­tial­ly serve every func­tion of every mem­ber by one­self in order to keep a house­hold run­ning can lim­it a per­son­’s poten­tial great­ly which leads to a lot of stress and dis­sat­is­fac­tion. Those rare few who find them­selves with­out the strains of hav­ing to pre­form more func­tions than they were intend­ed for and who are able to pur­sue their gifts indi­vid­u­al­ly, tend to have dif­fi­cul­ty avoid­ing doing so in a man­ner that isn’t self-serv­ing, even if this is not their desire.

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