This is an important book because we have a serious problem to solve. Why are most Christian communities so superficial and so prone to breaking apart? Pete Greig wants to persuade his readers to share his big vision—let’s form communities that will last a long time and let’s make a vow to stick with these communities when it gets hard to do so. “There is no place in the Christian community,” writes Greig, “for the serial monogamy mentality where each new friendship comes with a shelf-life. When a relationship gets awkward, or boring, we do not simply move on to another connection. Instead, we dare to go on a life-long journey together, through conflict and disappointment as well as seasons of mutual fascination and fun.
Why it is difficult to persevere in Christian community should be pretty obvious when each person examines himself. How do other people put up with me? Greig says that it is so difficult to put up with one another that we need to judiciously make a vow to one another, a pledge to be true to one another. In so doing we “stir one another up to love and good deeds,” at the very times when we might otherwise have allowed embers to die. “Our friendship survives seasons of vulnerability.” Greig writes, “When people see our sin and somehow still choose our company and laugh at our jokes. We turn acquaintance into friendship and a few of these friendships into life-long covenant camaraderie.”
To live long in relationship to one another, we make a pledge to one another. We make a solemn vow. This happened once before. Greig takes us back to the Moravian community. The Moravians became famous for sending whole families to be missionaries and for starting a prayer meeting that lasted for a hundred years. But behind the fame was a vow. Members of this order wore a ring inscribed with the motto, “None live for themselves”, but solemnly pledged: To be true to Christ, To be kind to people, To take the Gospel to the nations. Members who were ready to take the vow would meet in Count von Zinzendorf’s home:
After prayer and a little discussion of each aspect of the covenant, they stood, one at a time, and with little emotion, each one made their solemn vow to God. Next they knelt down as Zinzendorf placed the ring on their fingers, laid his hand on their heads, and prayed. The ceremony had taken minutes, but it was to last a lifetime. When all was done, they ate a hearty feast—breaking bread and drinking wine—to celebrate the covenant of their friendships: The Honourable Order of the Mustard Seed had been planted in good soil.
I am all in with Greig’s answer to our modern-day problem. Today, Greig writes, we are predisposed to cynicism because we don’t have an all-consuming cause the way previous generations did. Instead we have trends. We have products and technologies. We have our immediate circle of friends. But we don’t have A Cause—not one that demands our lives and calls us to sacrifice ourselves for something bigger than our own little selves. We were never called up to fight for freedom. No ration books. No man on the moon. No Martin Luther King, Jr. Just disposable heroes sponsoring products. Things that come and go.
As a result of this comfortable, cause-lite existence of ours, we are living like ghosts in time, happy to consume and be consumed without a thoughtful vision or an all-consuming passion. The glass elevator of human history may well prove embarrassing for a generation like ours, naked of ideals and unsure about its own destiny and direction.
But when a vision comes to us not as a human aspiration but as a divine revelation—then the whole equation changes. God’s commission always comes with his provision; He promises to supply our needs, to sustain us, to renew our strength, to redeem our mistakes, to use our weaknesses, and—best of all—to journey with us. He uses the weak and the foolish to confound the wise, ordinary people to do extraordinary things for His glory.
The Christian author, Rick Joyner, who is himself a member of an ancient Order called the Knights of Malta, says this: “Just as Count Zinzendorf, the true father of modern missions, created the Order of the Mustard Seed, which touched and inspired men like John Wesley to release a spiritual fire in the earth that created the first Great Awakening in America and Europe, I think that the church is in desperate need of groups who will join together to press beyond the state of modern Christianity as it is generally found in most of the world. Call these ‘elitist’ groups if you want, but we need them to call all Christians to higher standards of faith and life”.
One of our field workers sent this report. I am sure it will make your heart glad. For all who say, “I would be a missionary if I could have this kind of success,” remember the years of hard labor that this team has endured until now. Olivia writes:
I’m back in Magenta and soooo glad to be here. All is quiet and the team is healthy. Praise God! There are so many testimonies of God’s miracle-working power, I do not know where to begin.
After 21 years of living among the “Stora” as God’s people, desiring a saving knowledge of Jesus for them, the fruit is here. The cell groups are growing with the leaders teaching, the people inviting and singing praises to God. The mukhtars (head men) are inviting us to visit them, and are asking other mukhtars to come when we visit. They are thankful for us preserving their language with our publications.
Two of the elderly women I have visited in the past two weeks are proclaiming Jesus as savior and are giving me gifts (nuts, bananas, fish). I am excited over this because they are giving, not just taking.
A former prostitute has been completely changed, now loving her husband and praising God. A drunkard has stopped drinking and is attending the cell group with his wife. A head man and his son are preaching and telling other leaders about God. The people are praying for one another. A woman prayed over her husband sick with malaria and after she prayed in the name of Jesus, he was healed.
We are seeking God for His protection of these new believers and for our local village, which seems to be the toughest to reach even though we have favor with them. Our team women have begun a women’s group in our village that we meet with on Sunday afternoons. One of us teaches the Word of God, another teaches good health practices, and I follow up with discussion. We have soccer teams for the girls and boys, our workers hear the Word once a week, our translators daily translate God’s Word but no real fruit. Please pray for a break through here.
Please pray for our finances. The cost of living in in this African nation has doubled and Don’s’ supporters are down. The ministry is struggling financially.
Also, please pray for our most active group which is receiving some opposition from several sheiks accusing them of taking their people to Christian meetings. Pray for safety and peace but above all that God to use this to His glory.
If you were not to die tonight, what would you do in the morning? Some of us are called to fight and win far from home.
The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make your name great, and I will bless you, and you will become a great nation. I will bless those you bless you and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Then Abram went as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. And the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.”
I ask, “Who are Abraham’s descendants?” All who believe like he believed. All who are blessed, and in Abraham, all the families of the earth shall be blessed. “Christ has redeemed us so that the blessings given to Abraham might also come to the nations/ethne” (Galatians 3:14).
Family is the main unit for the Lord’s work of bringing us home.
We are going to win as we heal our broken families. Hearts of the fathers turn to their children (that is how the Old Testament ends) and the hearts of the children return to their fathers (that is how the New Testament begins).
Men, we can do better. Few fathers are leading their wives and children to read the Bible, few extend their hands around the table to pray, to pray for their protection, to bless, to read aloud a good book, to discuss the great ideas. Many fathers are embarrassed to lead in their homes, and an embarrassed man feels ashamed. How few men in our day saw their father model leadership in the home. How few men feel that they learned anything from their father. But this must stop here, with us. You men can turn this around now. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Life is war, and we must win it in our homes.
What good is an accountability group or a small group Bible study or Sunday School if we do not lead in our homes? What victories in the world war can we win in Sunday School or small groups if we are not winning them in the home? I say, close the Sunday Schools if we expect them to actually teach us anything. We learn everything in the home, or we learn nothing in the home.
Open your book at home, turn off the media at home. Talk at home. Listen at home. Entertain guests in your home. That is how children learn, how parents teach, and if you can think of any place where the devil has perpetrated more evil than the home, you will have to tell me. The Bible, which is “profitable for instruction” puts the primary teaching about God on the fathers, not the pastors. Listen to the word of the Lord in Deuteronomy 6, English Standard Version:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
“When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.’
Life is war. Let us win at home and pray for one another to fight the good fight on behalf of our families.
We win by doing good, but our pride has kept us from doing good. Everyone knows this, even non believers.
“When I want to do good, evil lies close at hand. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:21-24).
So the coming of grace to our lives is a victory twice over; first for our forgiveness, and second, for our empowerment to get back to doing good. The nature of God Himself is good:
“And God saw that what He made was good.” “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” “Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; sing to his name, for it is pleasant!” (Psalm 135:3).
God has put goodness in our hearts. When we hear the Golden Rule, we feel that this is right at a very deep level of our being: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” God has put goodness in our hearts, but we are painfully aware of how bad we are, what bad thoughts we think, and what bad things we have said and done. The confession of the historic Church of England is true:
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
Doing wicked things; thinking wicked things; wanting wicked things; knowing better and finding ourselves unable to do the good that we want to do, ah, that is the human condition.
That is the misery within. This is the war within. All of the great novels and movies and stories re-tell the story that life is war. All the great authors—Mark Twain, Fyodor Dostoevsky, the rest, are telling the story of how we became sad, how far short of goodness we all fall, how great is the gap between the good we want and how it ever got to be this crazy.
Man, by nature, does not want to know God. “There is no one who seeks after God,” as the above Scripture says. As Dr. Michael Horton noted, “We cannot find God for the same reason that a thief can’t find a police officer.” (Pastor John Samson)
But thanks be to God for His saving grace. He saves us from our sins by forgiveness, and He saves us from our human condition, but restoring to us the power to do good. Life is war, but we are twice victors, once within and again with others. We win because of the new way we treat others, with humility where once there was pride. We humbly join a new community of the redeemed.
I was sitting at church and the pastor said, “If you were to die tonight, would you know where you are going?”
And I thought, “There’s not a person in this room tonight that doesn’t know where they will go tonight if they die, because they all believe in God. But many here do not what they should do if they live till tomorrow.”
So to all of you who lived through the night, let me tell you what you are supposed to do.
It’s what you are supposed to do because life is war. War has brought the world to its knees before a terrible evil. That is what the Bible says, “The whole world lies under the power of the evil one.” Hobbes was right, our lives are nasty, short and brutish, and that is how the world would end, but for the good war.
It is God who has come to take back His people and His world.
The Bible says, “The Son of Man appeared to destroy the works of the devil.” That is the good war, the destruction of the works of the devil. Jesus Christ’s Great Commission is for us, the people in church who woke up this morning and wondered what we should do, what we should do is to start to win this war. And how shall we win? We will win by doing good. Doing good is the way we win the war.
Jesus went around doing good; Let your light shine before men that they might see your good works and glorify the Father. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Love one another; you have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor, but hate your enemy, but I say to you, love your enemy. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9). And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). That the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us (Titus 2:7-9). Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Hebrews 13:16). The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness and self-control (Galatians 6:8-9).
As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good (2 Thessalonians 3:13).
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Imagine a mosque in Damascus. You are in the mosque and the men are sitting on the carpets. You see a man in the mosque; he stands to speak for he means to be heard above the crowd. What he says has a certain rhythm, a rhyme, a cadence. “Allah, Syria, al-Jumhurriah.” God, Country, Freedom. Many men and then many more take up the rhyme until they steel their wills as men do when they prepare to sacrifice their lives for a great cause. They move toward the exits for God, for country, for freedom.
These are our brothers and our sons. They want what men have always wanted, what we would want were we burdened as they are burdened by injustice and the rule of evil men. In their desperate desire to better the lives of their children, they move toward the exits to the sound of their own chanting for God, for country for freedom. You have heard this before, in the call to arms made into music of Les Miserables:
Do you hear the people sing? Singing a song of angry men? It is the music of a people Who will not be slaves again! When the beating of your heart Echoes the beating of the drums There is a life about to start When tomorrow comes!
Today desperate men, sons of Syria, will move toward the exits of the mosque but they will face a fearsome foe, the army of Bashir al-Assad, a modern version of King Herod who kills the innocents and is too self-absorbed to stop and ask, “Look what has become of me, I who was once a boy playing with toys; what has happened to me that I should send soldiers to lay waste to the homes of innocent men, women and children. When the history is written, say that it was not my wish to rule or even return to Syria; I was happy to study in England, studying ophthalmology.
“Politics was supposed to be my brother’s fate, but he died in a car accident on the way to the Damascus airport. Curse my luck! If only he had lived, I would be living abroad, but here I am sending death squads into the neighborhoods of people I have never met to make an example of them and scare the others into submission.”
So the men in the mosque are moving toward the exits for God, for country, for freedom. Beyond the exits, snipers occupy the roofs. So I ask you, would you be willing to lose your life for the sake of your children’s future? That is the choice some of these are making. You would hope to have their courage were you born an Arab at such a time as this. They want freedom, they want rule of law, they want what you have, liberty and justice for all. They want daily bread, they want deliverance from evil, they want forgiveness. They long for a future and a hope, for peace.
It does not yet appear what will be the outcome of this great civil war in Syria. We all pray for an end, for a good ending, for a just and lasting peace. For years the Syrian people were forced by the police to attend rallies in stadiums. His picture would be enlarged and displayed on screens but he himself was not there. One of the “praise songs” that they sang to their leader’s picture at the rally was “You give us the air we breathe.”
That is blasphemy, and they all knew it. All of us would feel nauseous is we had to support such a modern-day king Herod. But somewhere in the crowd was a Patrick Henry, a statesman. Somewhere was a Gandhi, a Martin Luther King. And today, he is the man in the mosque, the man who started the chant, “God, Country, Freedom.”
Now the men in the mosque are moving to the exits and it does not yet appear what will happen when they step outside. It is the sound of angry men, the music of a people who will not be slaves again. They are desperadoes and their sons and daughters will tell their story to the next generation.
Nelson Mandela said, “ . . . For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Those of us who gather here today, in the sweet land of liberty, pray that the good news which came in Jesus Christ to make men and women free will come to pass for the Syrian people. And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can he preach unless he is sent? As the Scriptures say, “How blessed are the feet of him who brings good news.”