A Cosmic Courtship

 

“Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.”

Right now, in the cosmos, a courtship is underway between two very unlikely lovers. One is the king of all there is. He is literally the King of the Cosmos. The other is a foolish and stubborn individual who is largely unaware of her lover’s interest, or even his existence. She is wandering around trying to make the best of her life in a confusing and dangerous world.

The king who seeks her love has provided a path, a gate, a portal, leading directly to his side. He is ardently hoping that she will pass through that portal and step inside, so that he can woo her and win her love and take her to himself.

He is Jesus, the Son of God.

She is the human race. She is us.

The portal is the Christian gospel.

Opening the gospel, opening the portal, is our prerogative. This cosmic courtship, like any other courtship, must begin with an initial introduction between the parties involved. Otherwise it remains merely a fantasy in the mind of one or the other, and never comes to anything. Once inside, however, the love affair begins in earnest.

The Christian gospel has enormous depth, and levels that humanity will never completely penetrate. But essentially it is a fascinating, emotional, passionate, and still developing love story between Jesus, the undisputed master of the universe, and us, the human race. Jesus is fervently (and almost obsessively) in love with us and has been pursuing us relentlessly for over two thousand years, even to the present day. In the gospel, the unfolding story of his courtship and love is revealed to us.

As a baby, Jesus astonished us. And as an adolescent, we thought him bright and clever. (See the second chapter of Luke’s gospel.) But when he came of age, around 30 years old, we somehow managed to catch his eye and win his heart. Filled with the spirit of love, he began showering us with marvelous and extraordinary gifts in the way of a suitor, and he began talking to us about his family and his father’s kingdom, of which he was heir. We listened, of course, with interest. As time went on he even began to speak of himself as “the bridegroom,” and us as his “pearl.” “A merchant,” he was overheard saying, “went out seeking beautiful pearls. When he found one pearl of great price, he sold all that he had and bought it!” He called us his “vineyard.” He called us his “little flock.” He called us his “treasure.”

Now all this sweet talk eventually found it’s way to the very top echelons of that cosmic realm, where Jesus’ father reigns as king and powerful beings rule in the heavens. The glorious and seraphic members of his father’s court were justifiably taken aback and puzzled at the news of this new love interest. They were quite familiar with Jesus, so there was understandably some shock and wonder and even dismay at this new turn of events. It might be helpful to picture the son of a great king traveling to a poor and remote settlement, and unexpectedly falling in love with an uneducated and very common peasant girl during the course of his visit. Naturally there were other contenders in this love game back home, brilliant, intelligent, well-groomed, and highly qualified, hoping to take their place at Jesus’ side when he became king.

Some of these splendid individuals were genuinely happy for him and wished him nothing but joy and happiness. Others, especially those with exaggerated self-importance, were disturbed and clearly envious, to the point of rage and hostility. One of them, known as Lucifer, decided to intervene directly and see what could be done. (A detailed account of this exchange can be found in the fourth chapter of Matthew’s gospel.) Finding Jesus alone, this gorgeous heavenly luminary showed up and made his pitch, “I can offer you food at the snap of your finger, risk, thrills, and excitement, and unbelievable popularity with the crowds! All you have to do is love me, and me alone!”

This was a tempting offer, to be sure, a wild fling with a dazzling escort. But Jesus thought way too much of his father and his family to run off with that floozy. Besides, he had already fallen in love with us, his treasure, his pearl! Though we were no great prize, we were his choice. He sent that arrogant highborn prince off empty handed with a curt dismissal, and that was that.

It wasn’t too long after this that our relationship with Jesus began to sour. For some unfathomable reason we began to grow alarmed and put up our defenses, questioning his every word and analyzing his motives. Our resistance only seemed to spur him on and strengthen his resolve to win our love. The second chapter of Mark’s gospel records the beginning stages of this angst, which only seemed to gain momentum as time went on.

Then one day Jesus met privately with his father’s legal team. Recorded in the ninth chapter of Mark and known as the “Transfiguration”, it was here that the facts were evidently all laid out on the table: We, the human race, as desirable as we might be, were in fact a convicted race of criminals and outlaws with a rap sheet that included thousands of years of treachery, deceit, murder, rape, war, pillage, carnage, and wholesale wickedness of every imaginable sort. The question begging to be answered was: How was Jesus going to reign over his father’s kingdom of justice, with us at his side as his future bride? Something drastic needed to be done to rectify our legal status, and it was going to be expensive and painful.

Immediately after this meeting we saw Jesus resolutely marching off to Jerusalem, the local seat of government, and declaring his intention of paying off our debt. We learn the rest of the story from the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters of Mark. Jesus was brutally crucified and put to death. But the gospel writers were careful to point out that he did it “for our sake.”

And now that the debt was paid and we were cleared of all charges at the price of his blood, Jesus was free to take his beloved bride to himself and carry her home, no?

The tragedy of the story, the cruel twist, is that the bride-to-be, on the eve of her wedding, declined his offer. Remember that poor peasant girl, the one that he fell in love with? That was us. That continues to be us. What were we thinking? We positively rejected him! If the truth were known, we flew in his face in a rage. We told him all the terrible things we imagined he had done. We vowed we wouldn’t marry him if he were the last person on earth.

At this, Jesus went away stung to the heart. And we, the human race, the intended bride-to-be, have spent the last two thousand years trying to justify our behavior. We go over and over the facts as we see them. We argue that he is distant and aloof. Our friends all agree that he is only out to enslave simple-minded people. He has endless rules that he expects us to follow, we contend, and for him enough is never enough. We presume that if we take one step out of line we are cast off forever. He says he loves us, we declare, but we are left to suffer and die…and on and on we go as the years go by.

Then one day quite unexpectedly we find ourselves in his house, perhaps at a wedding, or a funeral. In his house we discover that he is deeply loved and honored by the people who know him and work with him and follow him. They can’t stop talking about him and praising him. As we marvel at this, suddenly someone throws open the gospel door and begins to read, and we are confronted with him face-to-face! There he is, holding out his hand and beckoning us once more to join him!

Deeply embarrassed and covered with confusion at this sudden encounter, we find we have nothing to say. We take flight. We run for the nearest door, jump in our car, and drive far, far away as quickly as possible.

But reflecting on this chance meeting leads us to a more realistic and healthy appraisal of the situation:

  • After all this time he does still appear to have feelings for us.
  • He is, in fact, very rich, which is a consideration.
  • We are older now, we have been pushed around a bit, and we have to admit that we have no other offers on the table, no other prospects for a happy future.
  • The fact is, if truth be told, we are running out of resources, and may be on the verge of some serious hard times.
  • His offer, when seen in this light, does seem quite generous, after all.
  • And he did, a long time ago, pay the price for our freedom.
  • He seems like the kind of person we could learn to love.
  • Perhaps we were too hasty in turning him down?

These new thoughts begin to move about in our brain, and we begin to feel something tender stir in our heart.

And then comes another chance encounter like the one before. Or perhaps we intentionally open that gospel door for another look. Once more, Jesus immediately appears and invites us in. We are still flustered from our earlier meeting, but we are somewhat more prepared, and we feel as though a simple acknowledgement, a thank-you, might be a good way to break the ice. We start to speak, but then it all spills out, “I am so sorry for the way I treated you, for the terrible things I said, for being so thoughtless and cruel. I can scarcely think of my behavior without pain and embarrassment. Is there any way that you could possibly forgive me, give me another chance?…”

Says he, without a moment’s hesitation “I will espouse you to me forever!“ (Hosea 2)

Now that’s direct talk! There’s no mistaking his intentions now! Most of us feel a wave of emotional ecstasy when we realize the implications of what we are being given. A fabulous future at the side of this joyous and generous king, with no legal fine print to dash our hopes!

It may be peculiar to imagine, but all of the ecstasy and disappointment and bliss and sorrow and joy that describe human love and marriage in our world is merely a faint reflection of this central and supreme cosmic drama between us, the human race, and Jesus, the king. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, describes human marriage as “A great mystery. I mean it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32) We are the single object of this divine invitation, and if we have a beating human heart we can respond enthusiastically in the affirmative.

There will come a time when Jesus will have to move ahead with this marriage. He will be forced to dismiss those who have persistently refused his offer. That event, found in Matthew’s gospel chapter 25, will be known as the “Final Judgment” and it will be a very sad time indeed. It is true that many people will turn at the last minute and come back, especially those who have been kind and generous and humanitarian during their lifetime. “Come’” he will say. “Come and receive the inheritance that has been prepared for you, since the foundation of the world!”

Those others, however, who never thought of anyone but themselves, will have to go. With enormous sadness and a breaking heart, Jesus will watch as a sizeable portion of humanity walks away in one final act of senseless defiance. Where will they go? What will they do? Who will take care of them?

It is far from certain that Jesus will ever get over this bitter and tragic disappointment. Nor is it certain that we will soon forget that awful day. The only thing we do know for certain is that the choice is entirely up to us. Happiness and joy (and a complete make-over!) as the bride-to-be, or loneliness and desolation in a dark and terrifying void.

The gospel comes to a close at this point, and we can imagine Jesus saying, “Please end my heart’s torment and say yes to my love.“

The Christian scripture concludes with a book known as “Revelation”, and that book describes the day of our future happiness, our wedding day. It’s not possible to even imagine what that day will be like, except that we will somehow be prepared and adorned, as a bride is adorned for her husband. (Rev. 19)

A 1970s love song from the Carpenters might describe our new life:

“We’ve only just begun, to live, white lace and promises. A kiss for luck and we’re on our way, we’ve only begun!”

Christianity is not a philosophy. It is certainly not a set of rules and regulations. Nor is it irrelevant or outdated or stale or boring. Those things describe what will be left if we pass up this incredible opportunity.

What inexpressible joy awaits us if we simply step through the gospel door and say yes!

 

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Mixing Metaphors

Jean-François_Millet_-_The Sower“The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.”

I have become completely fixated on the concept of treating Christian evangelism as if it were a political campaign, featuring Jesus as the dominant and exalted candidate for the highest office in the land, and his gospel as the perfect campaign brochure. The idea has taken hold of me.

I am equally fascinated by Jesus’ many remarks, found in the gospels, concerning the topic of agriculture. There are in fact many parallels between his treatment of farming and our understanding of politics. Most Christians would agree that when Jesus spoke of seedtime and harvest, sowing and reaping, weeding, watering, and pruning, he was referring to what he saw as his universal appeal to all the nations of the world.

So what is this “seed” that he often referred to? Jesus, the master gardener, said, “Once there was a man who went out to sow seed…”(Luke 8:5). When his friends questioned him about this story, his answer was, “The seed is the word of God.” (Luke 8:11)

Seeds are plain and ordinary, right? You pick them up at the garden center in the spring and plant them in your garden. Or you re-seed the bare patches in your lawn. No big deal.

But some seeds are more valuable, and they come with a history. They are called heirloom or heritage seeds, and they have been developed over hundreds of years, perhaps by a single family who has guarded and propagated this particular variety because of its inherent value.

So for the purposes of this article, and because it fits my narrative, I want to compare the Christian Bible to a seed catalog:

  • The Old Testament as a record of the history and development of one particular seed.
  • The New Testament (Acts of the Apostles and Letters) as a “how-to” manual for planting and caring for this seed.
  • The Book of Revelation as an analogy to the full-grown plant.
  • The Four Gospels as the actual seeds that need to be planted.

One hundred percent of Christian literature, without exception, is about the seed, but it is not the seed. Apologetics, Christian history, Holy Encyclicals, the lives of the saints, instruction in ministry, books on how-to-live-the-Christian-life, conversion stories, exciting fiction, the coming apocalypse; these are all great and inspiring books, and thank God for them, but they are not the seed. (And nobody said they were.) This noble body of literature is entirely directed towards people who are intent on nourishing the seed that has already been planted in their lives.

Consider the factory worker in Flint, Michigan, who is trying hard to be a good Muslim. Or think about the computer programmer in Seattle who was told by her parents to avoid western philosophies like the plague. How about the successful businessman from South Philadelphia, who meets his family and friends regularly in the Hindu Temple? Christian literature finds no home within them. What bears repeating is that there are over 5 billion of these good people in the world, and they constitute seventy percent of the earth’s population. For them, Christianity is a non-subject. There is an impenetrable spiritual barrier in place that not many humans can cross.

Not many can cross this divide, that is, with the notable exception of the humble postal worker, who can easily step over the barrier and plant a gospel seed as easily as dropping an envelope through the mail slot in the front door or the mailbox at the curb.

The four gospels are the very seeds that Jesus came to deliver, and they were intended for planting. Sending any other Christian literature to our secular world is like sending pictures of corn to a farmer. He doesn’t need pictures. He needs corn seed.

I am of the belief that mailing out single, intact, copies of the gospel is a crucial step in the education and transformation of the world, one that could have a lasting impact on our civilization. I have created a small personal program to do just that. And I would argue that large-scale gospel mailing programs could be successfully carried out in almost every nation on earth where postal services are available. In my opinion nothing else will do. Gospel tracts won’t do. Great Christian literature won’t do. How-to books won’t do. I would like to be a sower of real seed, seed that will take root and grow.

There is a question looming in my mind: Is sending out copies of the gospel a waste of my time? I don’t really know the answer to that question, but I’ve decided to go ahead with my program despite my own doubts, based solely on some old scripture passages that I have admittedly interpreted to suit my own purposes:

  • “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

This passage is most reassuring and would seem to indicate that my program cannot fail. Lord, help my unbelief!

  • The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:3-9)

The Parable of the Sower is so important in the gospels that it is repeated six times (twice in Matthew, twice in Mark, and twice in Luke). In the story, Jesus throws his seed out indiscriminately and stands back to see what might happen. Some of the seed takes hold and produces prodigiously, while some of the seed does not fare so well. Interestingly, Jesus seems to expect 100% germination, while allowing that only about 25% of the seed will mature.

And paraphrasing some other encouraging words of Jesus:

  • “Don’t bother to weed.” (Matt. 13:24-30)
  • “Don’t fret over your crop. Just leave it alone.” (Mark 4:26-29)
  • “That tiny little seed you are planting will be the biggest crop in your field.” (Mark 4:30-32)

Finally, Jesus’ concept of farming includes the possibility for exponential growth. Jesus predicted that some of those seeds could produce as much as 30, or 60, or 100 fold return. Best to wait and see before getting carried away! But I am eager to observe the outcome of my small gospel-planting project. My hope is that at least some of those who read the actual gospel will modify their way of thinking about Jesus, and believe in the possibility of a world completely immersed in his divine and passionate love.

To mix my metaphors once again, I would like to see many people cast their vote in favor of Jesus, and cultivate his love in their hearts.

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Political Baby Steps

babyanduniverse

“Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.”

 

I am a complete novice when it comes to politics and the process of running a political campaign. I have never been involved in politics at any level, with the exception of helping my friend become president of our senior class at college. Our main strategy at that time was to plaster campaign fliers on every tree and lamppost across campus. It actually worked surprisingly well.

Thinking I would test the concept of running a political campaign for Jesus, I printed up some business cards with His picture on the front, and my website on the back, and got myself into Times Square, New York City. My plan was to distribute the cards to random pedestrians, and assess their reactions. I discovered three things:

Not a single person would take a card from me, or even make eye contact.

When I placed the cards on public benches and tables, they were immediately removed and discarded by custodians working in the area.

If I placed a card on a table that was occupied, the reaction was often ridicule or outright hostility.

I somehow managed to place about 250 cards on public seating locations in Times Square before I lost my nerve and hurried home.

Over the next couple of months I got “hits” on my website from the following countries: United States, Brazil, Canada, India, Italy, Argentina, Portugal, Australia, Philippines, United Kingdom, Chile, Mexico, Albania, and Sri Lanka.

I won’t even try to correlate the hits on my website with the distribution of business cards, but I must say I was encouraged by the apparent interest in Jesus shown by people across the globe.

So how do modern political campaigns get their literature out to the masses? One technique that is familiar to many of us is the use of mailing campaigns. Postcards and flyers arrive in the mail describing a candidate’s qualifications, (and the opponent’s shortcomings), in the hopes of educating the electorate. Sometimes these campaigns target specific people at specific addresses, but at other times they are simply addressed to “Local Postal Customer.”

Every Door Direct Mail, or EDDM, is a service of the U.S. Postal Service developed to make mass mailing both easy and inexpensive. No postage permit is required, and no mailing lists are needed. Using their mapping tool, I can hover over an area that I am interested in, select an entire postal route, (typically around 500 households) and arrange for my campaign literature to be delivered to the “local postal customer “at the low cost of $0.18 per mail piece.

Let me repeat that: I can deliver my campaign literature (in this case the Gospel of Mark) to an entire postal route of 500 households, for about $90.00 postage (plus the cost of the printed material). Since each household typically consists of at least 4 people, I will be effectively reaching 2000 people with my candidate’s message every time I conduct an EDDM mailing to an individual postal route.

Unless I’m mistaken, delivering an up-beat message through the mail to prospective voters is probably the most efficient and successful tactic that a politician can employ to win votes during an election. Likewise, a short and pithy biography of the candidate may be just the ticket to a successful campaign. I’m certainly hoping that is the case in this most crucial of all elections. I will keep you up to date on my progress.

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The Power To Govern

Scan

“The Lord is King, the Most High over all the earth”

Our country has just been through a bruising presidential election, and for better or for worse, the winner clearly walked away with the power to govern. The loser was given no such power, and really had no recourse but to return to the private sector.

So winning an election isn’t incidental. When it comes to governing, at least in a democracy, winning an election is everything.

It seems to me that in the history of the world, absolutely nothing ever got done in the absence of a clearly defined leader or head of state. Sometimes a leader would come into power by conquering and subduing a people, and sometimes a long established monarchy was able to hold on to power. But the best kind of rulers, in my opinion, were the ones who had been intentionally chosen by the very people seeking to be governed.

As Christians we know that Jesus Christ is High King of Heaven. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega.

But on earth, sad to say, he only has 30% of the vote. And that is just not enough to rule on earth. We Christians want him to govern, and He wants to govern, but until he wins some sort of election, some sort of universal popular acclaim, He has to work behind the scenes in the private sector. (Of course, He could easily conquer and subdue the earth, but He doesn’t seem inclined that way.)

I believe that Jesus is fully aware of this reality. When He set up his special little kingdom among His tiny group of original followers, he basically told them to do two things:

  1. Live your lives as if I were your king.
  2. Spread my gospel (my governing principals) over the entire earth.

To me, that sounds a lot like a political party campaigning for it’s favorite candidate.

I don’t know too much about running a political campaign, but I know that one of the first things, and probably the most important thing, is to get the word out. Print up the campaign literature and pass it out everywhere, particularly where the candidate is not well known. Take his case directly to the people. Let them decide by a simple vote whether or not they want him as their leader.

This question constitutes the main theme of this blog. How is Jesus going to get seven billion people to come to him and ask him to be their ruler?

It is my small uninformed humble opinion that the world’s Christians should begin focusing more energy into printing and shipping individual copies of single gospels (possibly through the mail) to virtually every country on earth, especially to those countries where Christianity has no vital presence. I am not talking about gospel tracts, or how-to books. I am talking about printing the entire gospel of Mark, for instance. Or Luke or John or Matthew, printed in the language of the country of destination. These small booklets are no more than 50 or 60 pages in length and are easily read and understood by normal intelligent people.

I know this is not a new idea, and it is certainly being carried out by lots of individuals and groups all over the place. I’ve made up my mind to join in the effort in my own small way. I am still gearing up, but I have a plan and I will write more about this as things develop.

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The New Evangelization

Summary

“Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.”

 

In 1990 Saint John Paul II came out with his encyclical Mission of the Redeemer, where he described three different types of evangelism: mission ad gentes, Christian communities, and the “new evangelization.”

The mission ad gentes, which means “to the nations,” describes a situation where “Christ and his Gospel are not known.” (This is the missionary activity that I am focusing on in this blog.)

Christian communities refers to the ongoing catechesis and care for those who are “fervent in their faith.”

The New Evangelization: Here, Saint John Paul II was speaking to a specific group of people: baptized Christians who have walked away from the practice of their faith.

“…entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel. In this case what is needed is a ‘new evangelization’ or a ‘re-evangelization.’”

In 2010, Pope Emeritus Benedict established a brand new Vatican office, The Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, thereby bringing this “new evangelization” front and center to the church’s modern mission.

I personally know more than a few young and not-so-young men and women who have dedicated their lives to the cause of the new evangelization. Their work is difficult and noble. They are often focused on high school and college campuses, although certainly not exclusively, and their mission is to seek out those individuals who have drifted away from God and find themselves in a dangerous world without an anchor. The church has allocated enormous resources toward this initiative, both financially as well as with prayer and personnel. Within the church’s hierarchy, especially in the U.S. and Western Europe, the new evangelization is uppermost in everyone’s mind.

My wife and I served on several parish missions as part of a team that would travel up and down the east coast seeking to renew parish life. We would give our witness, lead the music, pray over people for healing, and try to answer people’s questions as best as we could. Skeptics might say that we were “preaching to the choir”.  Evangelicals would call it “refreshing the saints”, and John Paul II called it “the ongoing catechesis for those who are ‘fervent in their faith'”. But I must say I never encountered a single person who was being exposed to Christianity for the first time.

It is good to be reminded that, in the eyes of God, the soul of a freshman at Rutgers University is of infinite value and is loved in exactly the same measure as the soul of a tribal chieftain in the mountains of Pakistan.

Which brings me back to my original thesis: What about those 5 billion souls who have yet to hear the Gospel? Speaking solely as a layman, I am concerned that our resources are possibly being allocated disproportionately. What Saint John Paul II wrote in his encyclical was:

“I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples” (Bl. John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, no. 3). (emphasis mine).

Our current Pope Francis has often weighed in on the topic of world evangelism. In March of 2016, speaking at Saint Peter’s Basilica on Holy Thursday, Pope Francis said that God “would rather have many seeds be carried off by the birds of the air than have one seed be missing, since each of those seeds has the capacity to bear abundant fruit – thirtyfold, sixtyfold, even a hundredfold.”

And as recently as September 2017, Pope Francis told the people of Columbia, South America, “Dare to find new ways to share the faith.”

I am currently in the process of exploring a new way (for me) of spreading the gospel.

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The Missionary Model

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“Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom.”

While talking to a Catholic friend of mine, I mentioned my new interest in world evangelism and I mentioned my intention of blogging on the subject. He suggested I look into some of the great evangelists of the past, those towering saints of the church who first took Christianity to a pagan world.

He also suggested I look into the Catholic Church’s Vatican office responsible for the Propagation of the Faith.

Saint Paul, of course, came to mind immediately. After a dramatic conversion, he received the gospel, and it so took hold of him that he was a completely changed person. He insisted that Jesus Christ himself had mysteriously transmitted the gospel to him! “No one taught it to me!” (Gal. 1, vs. 12) Taking that exact story, and without consulting anyone, he thrust himself out into increasingly remote locations throughout the northern Mediterranean coastline, eventually landing in Rome, the pagan capital of the world, where he was put to death for his faith. He left in his wake an impressive number of strong vibrant Christian communities and a legacy of written letters that make up a quarter of the entire New Testament.

St. Francis Xavier, a co-founder of the Jesuits, was another extraordinary evangelist, pushing out into the Far East with nothing but the shirt on his back and the gospel story in his head. He spent a great deal of time in India, where he assimilated himself into their culture and proceeded to convert tens of thousands of souls to Jesus. Pope Pius XI proclaimed him patron of all foreign missions in 1927.

How could I not mention Saint Patrick? An escaped slave and shepherd, he was impelled by several visions to return to Ireland, the place of his captivity, and to begin proclaiming the gospel to a land under the oppression of pagan Druids. His message was so extraordinary that he converted the entire Irish nation to Christianity in 40 years. He died…on March 17th of course.

And then there is the case of St. Turibius of Mogravjo. A brilliant lawyer serving as a member of the Spanish Inquisition in the 1500s, he was yanked out of that job and sent, against his will, to serve as Archbishop of the newly formed diocese of Peru in the New World. Disgusted with Spain’s treatment of the native population, he hit the ground running and traversed, on foot, the entire 170,000 square miles of his diocese, bringing comfort and help to the poor people he encountered. He actually traversed this enormous diocese on foot on three separate occasions, personally baptizing one half million souls, including St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres. The list of his achievements is as long as your arm.

One more special saint deserves mention: Saint Isaac Jogues. Isaac Jogues was a Jesuit missionary priest who travelled from his native France to work among the Huron and Iroquois native populations in North America in the mid 1600s. Despite having his fingers bitten and chopped off by the natives, he continued preaching the gospel accounts of Jesus’s life among them for many years. He was eventually brought back to France, but his zeal was so extreme that he returned to the New World to pour himself out until his death at the hands of a tomahawk wielding Iroquois warrior.

Now, these people made a mark in their world! They had a story and they stuck to it!

In my own case, I left rural Connecticut when I was 30 years old, and went to live in a Catholic church in the heart of Newark, New Jersey. Joining a number of other zealous young men and women in a program of Christian renewal, we often fanned out across the inner city neighborhoods inviting people to our church. Although some of my new friends may have been effective evangelizers, in my case I believe the local residents of Newark tended to look on me with downright pity. The Lord, in his great wisdom and mercy, arranged for me to meet a lovely young woman and get married, before I could do any real damage in the missionary fields!

Things are a lot calmer now than they were in ancient times. We do things in an orderly and thoughtful manner, and the faith quietly spreads its work of salvation throughout the earth. There is, for example, the Pontifical Mission Society known as the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. This society exists for the express purpose of raising funds to be used by individual missions until such time as the mission is able to stand on its own. The Society also educates the larger church with regard to the missions, and solicits prayers as well as financial sacrifice. The work done by this society is impressive and deserving of high praise. Some of the projects they are currently involved in are:

  • Renovation of Presbytery, construction of wall fence, Maichea
  • Completion of Sacred heart of Jesus Church, Bobo Village
  • Training programme for evangelization agents on Mission Animation
  • Construction of a convent for the FMA – Salesian Sisters at Gubrye
  • Construction of St. Gabriel’s Poutstation Church, Ejefara
  • Re-building Holy Saviour Church, Debiti
  • Construction of Holy Trinity Parish Church, Danalega
  • Construction of Gona Parish, Amurada District
  • Construction of Bishop’s residence, Jimma town
  • Construction of Gidda community church, Cenna District
  • Construction of a church, Wekele village
  • Construction of Chapel for the missionary sisters of Mary Help of Christians at Arsi Negelle
  • Renovation of a convent for Sisters of Mercy – Gute, Abakuna
  • Construction of Ketchi Church
  • Purchase of furniture, equipment, kitchen material for Catechetical center in Adaba

These projects represent the Society’s work in just one country, Ethiopia. The Society for the Propagation of the Faith works with missions throughout the entire earth. It would be hard to think of a more worthwhile expenditure of resources.

And yet, back to our original concern: There are those five billion un-reached souls who have no way of hearing the wonderful invitation of our loving Lord Jesus contained in the gospels.

Furthermore, at least technically, the word “propagation” should imply some specific and intentional transmission of the faith toward the un-evangelized population, rather than just funding the maintenance and education of already established missions.

When a young couple falls in love, gets married, and begins discussing the “propagation” of the human race, they are not talking about repairs to the roof! (They are probably not discussing the process publicly at all, if they have any decency.)

So, although building projects and fundraising are highlighted on their website, it is safe to say that a great deal of direct and indirect evangelization is being carried out by this great society. The gospel is being actively spread both by word and example, otherwise where would the missions come from in the first place? And the sole purpose of mission outposts and shrines is to spread the gospel to as many people as possible.

In my opinion, with a limited knowledge of everything there is to know, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith is probably doing more to hasten the return of the Lord than any other single arm of the Christian church.

 

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The Problem As I See It

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“Go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all people”

Mark 16, vs.15

 

I never gave more than a passing thought to the “Great Commission,” delivered by Jesus just shortly before his ascension into heaven. Most people, I reasoned, had heard about Christianity and could easily look into its claims if they truly had an interest. And most of the non-Christians that I had spoken to left no doubt that they were definitely not interested. So I decided to let matters be, and not bother people with a topic that didn’t resonate with them.

But something changed for me. A good friend of mine suddenly began confronting me with questions about my faith. He was very respectful, but he was looking for answers. I discovered that I had nothing satisfying to offer him. In fact I had nothing satisfying to offer myself. I could hardly formulate a thought that didn’t sound completely absurd.

One of his observations was that Christianity is rapidly losing ground in today’s world. For some reason my defenses went up, and I felt the need to argue his point and prove him wrong.

Not long after that I came across an article written by a high-ranking Catholic Cardinal, lamenting the condition of the European Catholic Church. He was saying that Europe’s Christian legacy is at risk “because we Europeans have squandered it”.

Even more recently I read that in Great Britain, the Christian underpinnings of their legal system are being quietly put aside, and are being replaced by a type of sharia, or Islamic, law. The article goes on to say, “Given the current trends, Christianity in England is becoming a relic, while Islam will be the religion of the future.

Suspecting that all of these people couldn’t be wrong, and beginning to feel a growing alarm, I decided to look into the status of Christianity in our world today. Some of what I discovered reassured me, but then as I looked further I seemed to fall into an open chasm.

My friend was indeed spot-on about the church’s dwindling numbers in North America and Europe. I guess I wasn’t completely surprised at that discovery. Globally, on the other hand, Christianity seems to be holding its own, and is actually quite robust in some large areas of the world. In China, for instance, one statistic claims that Christianity is growing at the rate of 10,000 to 25,000 converts a day.

So all is well, is it not?

Well, not exactly. There are other more disturbing statistics out there.

For starters, after over two thousand years, Christians only make up approximately 30% of the world’s population. That’s 2.2 billion adherents, true. But 5 billion souls have yet to be reached by Christ’s offer of love and redemption. Five billion souls.

The total world population at this time (2017) is approximately 7.2 billion people, and the average age of these people is a youthful 26 years old.

Two-thirds of the world’s population (4.4 billion people) live in a region of the globe that is almost completely closed to any sort of Christian missionary activity, a policy of hostility enforced by most of the governments in that portion of the world. Although there are Christian missions in existence throughout this region, they are barely holding their own and are under the daily threat of persecution or extinction.

The region I speak of stretches from the Sahara in Western Africa to the eastern shore of Asia, lying between 10 degrees and 40 degrees north of the equator. I am talking about the countries of North Africa, all of the Middle East, all of India, most of China, and all of Southeast Asia.

Regrettably, there is almost zero new penetration of the gospel into vast stretches of that region, a region sometimes referred to as the “10/40 window.”

And although missionary activity is being carried out heroically, and with real joy and fervor, statistics reveal that 99% of the missionary funds, and 99% of the missionary efforts, go towards supporting those souls who have already been evangelized. Small churches are being built (or repaired), schools are being established, water systems are being installed, farming techniques are being explained, catechists are being trained. Some new converts are made due to the exemplary Christian witness being demonstrated, but often those gains are more than erased by the terror and destruction of persecution. Meanwhile only one percent of missionary funds and effort are being expended on what could be referred to as “unreached people groups.”

So if what I read is true, if Europe’s and North America’s Christian legacy is at risk, and two-thirds of the world is closed to Christian activity, and no missionary funds are being allocated toward the unevangelized population of the world, then the church does appear to be in a negative downward spiral. Red flags are beginning to fly in my head. I can feel myself being radicalized. Can anything be done about this? Is the situation hopeless? Does anybody even care?

But I know that there are people who care. And many more would care if they were aware of the situation. Something certainly can be done to turn the tide. However, one piece of wisdom coming from our strange and turbulent times rings true: If you keep on doing the same things, you will keep on getting the same results.

Perhaps an adjustment in our evangelistic technique could supplement our global missionary efforts and put us on a more positive trajectory. I intend to explore a particular model of evangelism during the course of this blog.

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Treating Christian Evangelism like a Political Campaign